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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency’

Harley-Davidson's new factory in York, Pa.

A new Harley-Davidson motorcycle rolls off the assembly line in York, PA.

You might recall that one of the first moving assembly lines was at Ford Motor Company in 1913.  Until this time automobiles were built one at a time and were quite expensive.  With the Model T, they began experimenting with different production techniques and the conveyor belt system was born.  At its peak a finish Model T came off the assembly line every 10 seconds.

Workers could not stop the line even if parts were wrong.  Workers were not allowed to think on the job.  They were allowed to only do their assigned task and do them ever quicker.  They required almost no skill to perform and were highly repetitive.  Many workers were unfulfilled and became bored and dissatisfied with their jobs.  As a result, absenteeism rose and employee turnover became high.

Fast forward 100+ years and everything has changed, right?.

The “New Factory York” is Harley-Davidson’s largest motorcycle factory.  Once there were 41 buildings on the huge 232 acre plot, but most have been demolished along with 2300 jobs.  The entire manufacturing facility is now housed in one building.  It’s a model of efficiency which H-D plans to “copy-exact” in Menomonee Falls and Tomahawk.  The process is centered on advanced manufacturing techniques that are used at Toyota and Caterpillar that are well known for their quality and efficiencies.

The Milwaukee changes are a com’in… because effective this month adjusted labor contracts went into effect giving the company more flexibility with the workforce.  Similar to the York plant there can be the use of seasonal employees who are not entitled to medical or retirement benefits and receive less pay for the same work done by regular employees.  While still unionized they are paid about $16.80 to $26 per hour versus $30.50 to $38 per hour for regular employees.

But, just like in 1913 not all the workers seem to be infatuated with the changes.  There is a great article written by Rick Barrett at the Journal Sentinel which captures the mixed opinions and whether the transformation has resulted in a better workplace.   We all know that change is messy, but some of the comments had me wondering if some in the workforce would prefer a return to the Model T era.

Photo courtesy of H-D

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Humpty Dumpty Prevention Program

Most chief executives are entering 2011 with big decisions to make—especially how to revive sales.

But, some have deeper problems to address.  Facing down “significant cost, efficiency and production flexibility gaps” as well as fierce competition for some, such as Harley-Davidson who last November told Kansas City union officials that it might move operations to Harley’s Springettsbury Township plant if a contract wasn’t ratified by early March.

Well it’s March and their “no blink” management style resulted in the members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 176 and United Steelworkers Local 760 not letting “Humpty Dumpty” fall.  They ratified a contract by a vote of 467 to 185 and the new labor agreement takes effect in August.

The “fall prevention program” has been implemented and proven to be an effective tool in the loss of all jobs in Kansas City.  Congrats to Local 176 and Local 760.  The new contract is a 7-year deal that, when implemented, will result in the Kansas City plant having about 540 full-time, hourly unionized employees compared with about 685 today.  Yes, it’s a loss, but it does keep many high-paying manufacturing jobs in Kansas City and brings all H-D plants under one umbrella for production flexibility.  The company stated that the new contract, which will be implemented in phases, will result in about $15M in annual savings starting in 2013.

To all the folks who railed on my public union previous blog post, you see private unions have to adjust to economic conditions.  Unlike the Wisconsin public union members who have protested for days because they have been ask to pare back their benefits, Harley-Davidson has budgetary constraints that can’t be fixed by raising taxes. If we used the public union mentality I suspect they would ask Harley-Davidson to respond by raising prices and demand that motorcycle enthusiasts just pay more for a scooter instead of buying something else?

And if all that wasn’t enough… this item falls into the “what were they were thinking” category… I read that in Minnesota a local pipefitters union has purchased the Hillcrest Golf Club in St. Paul, paying $4.3M – yes, you read that correct at $4.3M – for the private club and vowing to keep it private for at least two years.  That does a lot for the unions  being frugal perception…

Photo courtesy of NYTimes.

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Way back in 2009 I posted a blog about H-D’s restructuring and management looking at moving from the York, Penn. plant due to inefficiencies, cost structure and a major problem with absenteeism.

At the time H-D was looking at four other possible sites including moving operations to the Kansas City facility.  I even wrote a tongue-n-cheek letter to CEO, Keith Wandell stating Oregon was open for business if they wanted to consider the west coast for relocation.  Concessions were made to keep the plant in York, changes in work culture and a new attendance policy were negotiated as part of a multi-year restructuring deal and the York plant continues on.

Then earlier this year I posted about H-D management giving it’s Milwaukee workers an ultimatum… approve a new labor agreement or risk losing/moving jobs out of Milwaukee (PTO and Tomahawk) to the Kansas City plant or to another state.  Ratification of a new labor agreement occurred on September 14, 2010 which meant fewer employees and a whole host of other changes to generate about $50M in annual operating savings.

And speaking of Kansas City, Harley-Davidson management has told its KC plant employees this week that they must accept wage and other concessions or the plant could be closed or move.  The company stated the plant would be merged with one in York, Penn.  The company said: “that recent internal studies show significant cost, efficiency and production flexibility gaps in the Kansas City operations,” which must be addressed.

Talk about déjà vu… all over again!

Is it about the “Art of Negotiation” or is management truly committed to closing the Kansas City plant?  Probably a little of both, as we’ve seen in the past the recession favors management and puts more pressure on workers to agree to the demands.  In fact, in each of the previous cases the company has obtained nearly all the concessions ask.

Adding to the KC efficiency insult was the company statement of how it would make a final decision in Q1, 2011.  Gives the workers something to think about over the holidays.  Just stay classy H-D!

Photo courtesy of web.

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Arial View of H-D Arizona Proving Grounds (Yucca)

The motor company delivers on its promise.

Not a new innovative motorcycle model, but to consolidate testing operations into one single location in Arizona – called the Arizona Proving Ground (AZPG).

Reports out of Kingman, AZ indicate that a local contractor (T.R. Orr, Inc.), received two building permits from the county Development Services Department, one for commercial renovation at the proving grounds and another for the construction of a brand new industrial plant.

You may recall that H-D moved into the Chrysler Proving Grounds at Yucca less than a year ago after it was booted from the General Motors proving grounds in Mesa, which had been closed and sold off the previous year.  The motorcycle company is shuttering testing operations in Talladega, Ala., as well as Naples, Fla., as they are in the process of moving those operations to AZPG through 2011.  I’ve previously reported as far back as 2008 on H-D plans of AZPG HERE and HERE.

According to H-D spokeswoman Pat Sweeney, the changes being made to the existing facilities and the new industrial plant will not only provide H-D the space and equipment it needs to make the most use of the proving grounds it will also – and are you ready for the “E” word – improve its efficiency.  Details on the cost of the new industrial plant or the need for any new employees from the local workforce were – incomplete – as Ms. Sweeney cited an obvious benefit to the community just because we’re consolidating there, but “we’re just still not really sure at his point in time” when referring to hiring plans.  I anticipate they offered folks in the shuttered operations an opportunity to move to AZ and are waiting on the final acceptance ratio before opening job req’s.

And speaking of jobs… the nearby and sprawling Arizona State Prison, Cerbat Facility (20 buildings on 45 acres) was a 2,000-bed minimum custody facility that just completed a major renovation and expansion into 3,400 beds.  I see an inmate labor force expansion in the near future and it couldn’t come at a better time according to local reports.

Photo courtesy of Chrysler

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