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Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010

Issue of the Week: Harley-Davidson Gets a Free Ride

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Something just doesn’t add up.

Harley-Davidson made $104 million in profits in the first six months of this year even though its sales were flat.

Its CEO, Keith Wandell, made $6.4 million during his first eight months on the job in 2009.

The state of Wisconsin has even changed its tax law to help homegrown manufacturers like Harley, a change that saved the company about $15 million in taxes in 2008 alone.

So why is Harley now punishing its workers—who haven’t done anything wrong and who show up for work every day so that Harley can generate these profits—by forcing unions to take a one-time-only offer with little job security, increased use of temporary workers and higher health care costs?

Even with the new agreement, approved on Monday, about 200 jobs will be cut in Milwaukee.

If the contract hadn’t been approved, CEO Wandell warned, Harley would leave town to find cheaper workers elsewhere.

Milwaukee and Wisconsin have been very loyal to the Harley-Davidson corporation, so where is the reciprocation of that loyalty? The founders were proud of Milwaukee and its highly skilled workforce. But today, companies are all about “huge profits.” “Reasonable profits” are not good enough.

It is unfortunate that employees who spent their working lives making Harley great are getting squeezed in this Wall Street-created recession. We don’t fault the workers for striking this deal. But we do fault Harley’s management for making a bad offer that its workers couldn’t refuse.

Hero of the Week

Ralph Miller at Agape Community Center

Located on Milwaukee’s Northwest Side, the Agape Community Center offers educational, social, recreational, cultural and well-being programs to area residents, many of who are seniors. Aiding Agape in its mission are volunteers like Ralph Miller.

Miller, 75, is a retiree who, along with his wife, has been helping out at the center for almost four years. Not only does Miller help with administrative and fund-raising efforts, but he also assists “wherever else he can,” according to Agape supervisors. Twice a week Miller runs the popular bingo game—an activity that is not without its perils, Miller says with a laugh. “Those seniors are like sharks in the water! If I call a wrong number, they’ll let me know it.”

Readers interested in helping out or learning more about the services offered to seniors, youths and families by Agape Community Center are urged to visit www.agape-center.org or call (414) 464-4440.

Jerk of the Week

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker

How badly was Scott Walker sweating it the weekend before the primary election? Bad enough to make yet another impossible-to-fulfill promise about the county budget: that he’d cut the cash-strapped county’s tax levy by $1 million. Yeah, right. President Obama’s stimulus package is helping Walker plug some of the holes in his budget, but lacking a resolution with the county’s largest union over concessions in last year’s budget, and trying to get repairs under control following the fatal accident at O’Donnell Park, and facing a near-fatal cut to the county’s bus system, every reasonable economist argues that Walker just can’t cut $1 million out of the budget. But that reality won’t stop him from making yet another empty promise to generate another headline to help his gubernatorial campaign. Even worse, Walker is getting shrill, accusing Democrats of trying to “hijack” the Republican primary—on Sept. 11, no less. Once again, Walker is Jerk of the Week for his overwhelming ambition and shocking immaturity.