President Donald Trump has taken multiple swipes at Harley-Davidson in the past 24 hours over its announcement that it will shift overseas some production — and presumably jobs — because of Trump-induced tariffs from Europe. He’s said he’s “surprised” at the decision and accused Harley of using tariffs as an “excuse” to offshore jobs.
But while the president is raging publicly about Harley’s move and threatening to hit the company with a big tax, behind the scenes he hasn’t been quite so active in preserving the motorcycle-maker’s operations in the States. Trump has yet to offer any response to pleas from workers in Kansas City to keep the Harley-Davidson plant open there.
In January Harley announced plans to close a plant in Kansas City, Missouri, and subsequently lay off some 800 workers there. It plans to shift the production to another plant in York, Pennsylvania, but the restructuring will still lead to a net loss of 350 American jobs.
Kansas City workers say they were caught completely off guard by the decision. They were further incensed by Harley’s decision to open a plant in Thailand and an announcement days after the plant-closure news that the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company would enact a stock buyback program worth some $700 million.
Having seen Trump make such a big deal about saving jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana in 2016, some workers decided it was worth reaching out to the president to ask if he would step in. In March Robert Martinez Jr., president of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), sent a letter to President Trump asking him to intervene and save Kansas City workers’ jobs.
“For decades, hard-working Machinists Union members have devoted their lives to making high-quality, American-made products for Harley,” he wrote, later adding, “America’s working men and women deserve better than being thrown out onto the street. Our nation deserves better.”
His pleas have seemingly been ignored.
An IAM spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday morning that, despite all of Trump’s fulminating on Twitter about Harley’s Europe decision, he has not offered a response to Martinez’s letter. Martinez met with White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on April 11 about the plant closure, and Navarro promised to follow up with the company’s CEO. And still, there’s been no response.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Trump cares about Harley-Davidson now because it’s about him
Harley-Davidson on Monday said it will shift production of its European-bound motorcycles overseas as a result of retaliatory tariffs enacted by the European Union last week. In a regulatory filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said the EU’s tariffs, a reaction to the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the United States, will add an additional $2,200 to the price of motorcycles sold in Europe and will cost it an additional $30 million to $45 million this year.
Starting on Monday evening, Trump fired off a number of tweets criticizing Harley’s decision. He said he was “surprised” that Harley “would be the first to wave the White Flag” and claimed the tariffs are an “excuse” to offshore jobs. “A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!” he wrote.
Trump also said Harley will be “taxed like never before,” seemingly threatening to directly retaliate against the company, although it’s unclear exactly what he could do.
Trump pointed out that Harley made the Kansas City and Thailand announcements earlier this year, “long before the tariffs were announced.”
That’s true. But this leads to the question of why Trump didn’t do anything sooner. Union workers were in Washington last month to meet with lawmakers about the Kansas City plant closure; the president could have conceivably done or said something then or when Martinez wrote the letter.
On Twitter on Tuesday, Trump also said that he has had Harley-Davidson officials at the White House. Again, that’s true; he brought them in soon after his inauguration, in February 2017.
During that meeting he told executives how “happy” they would be with his policies, including those on tariffs and trade. He also complained about an immigration agreement between the US and Australia and bragged about his surprise electoral victory in Wisconsin.
Trump has had months to do something about Harley-Davidson or at the very least to speak out about its plants. He hasn’t said anything until now, because now it’s directly tied to him — his tariffs, Europe’s retaliation, and the real threat it’s posing to American jobs.
Yet even as Trump rages publicly on Twitter, union workers in Kansas City are still waiting for a response.
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