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Season 4, Episode 131

Celebrating 120 years of Harley-Davidson



Guest Name:

Tom Buffenbarger

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Independent labor voice Tom Buffenbarger joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast on this Independence Day to talk about the history of Harley-Davidson. Buffenbarger discussed the post-war problems Harley-Davidson faced and how unions helped make Harley the company it  is today.

In 1903, Harley-Davidson began production on motorcycles in Milwaukee, Wis. For a long time, the U.S. military was the company’s the largest customer. As the military continued advancing its technology, motorcycles led the way, becoming the multipurpose vehicles in theaters of war. Since the comany’s founding, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers represented plant workers, and were considered partners in the work they performed at Harley, Buffenbarger said.

Following World War II, many soldiers returned home and sought out motorcycles, which they became accustomed to riding overseas. This new demand created competition amongst manufacturers, both American and abroad. At the time, Harley-Davidson was owned by American Machine and Foundry Manufacturing Company. Unfortunately, the brand was in decline and its sales lagged behind its competitors. 

In 1981, with the company in peril, 13 AMF executives bought out Harley. They then met with the Machinists Union to figure out a way to engage their employees while improving the standing of Harley-Davidson.

At this time, Buffenbarger was the representative in charge of the Machinists who worked at Harley-Davidson and he worked with management to implement a bottom-up plan to improve employee engagement and get Harley back on top. Together, they developed a cooperative system where management and employees were equal partners. This increased the desire to improve the quality and standards of the employee's work. Buffenbarger then discussed the company going public and what happened to many employees afterward.

Listen to the entire episode to learn more.


America’s Work Force is the only daily labor podcast in the US and has been on the air since 1993, supplying listeners with useful, relevant input into their daily lives through fact-finding features, in-depth interviews, informative news segments and practical consumer reports. America’s Work Force is committed to providing an accessible venue in which America's workers and their families can hear discussion on important, relevant topics such as employment, healthcare, legislative action, labor-management relations, corporate practices, finances, local and national politics, consumer reports and labor issues.

America’s Work Force Union Podcast is brought to you in part by our sponsors: American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of Musicians Local 4, Columbus/Central Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, Communication Workers of America, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 6, The Labor Citizen newspaper, Laborers International Union of North America, North Coast Area Labor Federation, Survey and Ballot Systems, United Auto Workers, United Labor Agency, United Steelworkers.


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