Machinists: Harley-Davidson using tariff excuse to move overseas
Harley Davidson had planned moving jobs overseas before there was any talk of tariffs, according to the Machinists. | Ben Margot/AP

KANSAS CITY—Harley-Davidson, the iconic and unionized U.S. motorcycle manufacturer, is using the Trump administration’s tariffs on European goods – and Europe’s retaliation against motorcycles and other U.S. products – as an excuse to move jobs overseas, which it had planned to do anyway, Machinists national and local leaders say.

Machinists President Bob Martinez called the firm’s announcement “the latest slap in the face to loyal highly skilled workers” who make Harleys in Kansas City, Milwaukee and York, Pa.

Machinists Local 176 business representative Bob Capra, whose union represents 800 workers at the to-be-closed K.C. plant, told National Public Radio that Trump’s tariffs “were just an excuse,” because “they (Harley) have been going overseas for some time.” Steelworkers Local 760 also represents some K.C. Harley workers. It had no comment.

Harley announced June 25 that Europe’s retaliatory tariffs against the cycles made it uneconomical to make them in Kansas City and ship them to London and Paris, capitals of the two biggest Harley markets in Europe. Harley said, instead, it would build a plant in Thailand to ship the cycles to Europe.

That statement contradicts a letter Harley sent to the two union presidents earlier this year, with copies to local political leaders, saying it would close the plant and shift its 800 jobs to a sister plant in York.

That didn’t blunt Martinez’s basic point about Harley sending good union jobs to low-wage countries.

“Even before the EU’s announcement, Harley made the decision to close its plant in Kansas City and has manufacturing facilities in India and Brazil. It also announced a future plant in Thailand. This latest move is in keeping with Harley’s past decisions to open plants outside of North America,” he said.

“Will Harley use any excuse to ship jobs overseas? Does Harley even understand what ‘Made in America means?’”

In a press conference last month, Democratic politicians joined Harley workers in denouncing Trump. The Dems, however, blamed the move on the Trump-GOP corporate tax cut.

“Workers across the nation are paying the price for the Republicans’ tax scam dishonesty.  The GOP tax scam actually rewards companies for shipping jobs overseas,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said then. “We need to fix this Republican raw deal with a better deal.”

“A Better Deal,” the name of the Dems’ program, would “create jobs and invest in American manufacturing, give our workers the tools to succeed and, in doing so, also provide safety in the workplace as well and put economic power back in the hands of hard-working men and women.”

“These companies are taking tax breaks with one hand and handing out pink slips with the other,” Martinez said then. “I’m going to call it like I see it. This is a corporate ambush on working people.”

“So here I am… 21 years of service… 58 years old and I’m kicked to the curb…me and 799 others at the Kansas City Harley-Davidson plant,” said Local 176 member and Harley worker in Kansas City.

“We are starting over. Our president speaks of Making America Great Again. But I’m not feeling so great right now. My company just got a multimillion-dollar tax cut, and has now decided to make a multimillion-dollar investment overseas.”

Besides Harley-Davidsons, Europe’s retaliatory tariffs were imposed on Florida oranges, Kentucky bourbon and North Carolina tobacco. Trump carried all those states. He also carried Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Missouri, site of the Kansas City plant. And some Missouri Harley workers live on the Kansas side of the Kansas-Missouri line. Trump carried that state, too.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).