During a question and answer session at Harley-Davidson’s annual shareholder meeting, Deborah Evans, a United Steelworkers member employed by the motorcycle icon, told CEO Keith Wandell that unionized employees weren’t “feeling the love” from company management. Rather than giving Ms. Evans some bland answer, Wandell gave her a rather straight-forward answer:
“I wish to God I could stand in front of everybody and say that you’re going to be guaranteed a job for life,” Wandell said. “We’d all be great friends and pat each other on the back and walk into the sunset together. You know what? Life isn’t that simple.”
“I will come to work every day, roll up my sleeves, work next to you on the line, whatever has to happen to ensure that we are a great company,” Wandell said. “But I’m not going to tell people something that isn’t true.”
At the heart of the issue was an employment security agreement entered into by production employees in the mid-1990s that encouraged workers to actively participate in continuous improvement efforts within Harley-Davidson’s factories without fear of losing their jobs.
The promises made at that time aren’t realistic given the unprecedented economic challenges that the company has faced since 2008, said Wandell, dressed in blue denim jeans and a white, long-sleeve Harley-Davidson dress shirt adorned with the company’s iconic bar and shield logo.
“If any one of us every [sic] believes that we aren’t going to impacted or affected by what goes on in the economy, we¹re wrong,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the people that made that promise aren’t standing here today to tell you why it isn’t true.”
While Wandell’s answers may not have been what Ms. Evans or any of her union brethren wanted to hear, it is still better to hear the truth than nothing at all.
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
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