Here's Why Trump Tweeted About Harley-Davidson's Plant In Kansas City

Jun 27, 2018
Originally published on June 27, 2018 1:46 am

President Donald Trump spent part of Tuesday morning tweeting about Harley-Davidson, specifically calling out the motorcycle giant's plant in Kansas City.

But the president's claim that the Kansas City plant's operations are moving to Thailand are disputed by both Harley-Davidson and leaders of the union representing workers at the plant.

Some background:  

In January, Harley-Davidson announced plans to close its Kansas City plant. It appears that move has little to do with Monday's decision by the company to move more manufacturing out of the United States.

The plant, which is in the Northland near Kansas City International Airport, was built in 1998 and employs about 800 people. The Wisconsin-based motorcycle manufacturer says it plans to consolidate operations in York, Pennsylvania, the site of an existing plant where about 450 of the Kansas City plant's jobs will be moved.

On Monday, Harley-Davidson announced it would move some manufacturing overseas in response to additional tariffs imposed on motorcycles and other American imports by the European Union. The E.U. tariffs appear to be a direct response to the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on European steel and aluminum. 

In an interview on Morning Edition Tuesday, union leader Joe Capra, who represents workers at the Kansas City plant, said Harley-Davidson has been moving operations out of the U.S. for some time, and the company is using the new tariffs as an "excuse" to continue that trend.

While that echoed the president's sentiment on Twitter, Capra told KCUR he does "not have verification" that jobs or equipment from Kansas City are destined for overseas plants.

Last month, USA Today reported that a union worker from the Kansas City plant had claimed jobs and equipment from Kansas City were being sent to Thailand, but Harley-Davidson denied that claim.

Harley-Davidson did not respond to requests for comment for this story. 

Another source of confusion is where motorcycles manufactured outside of the U.S. will be sold. In its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Monday, Harley-Davidson said it will "shift production of motorcycles for EU destinations from the U.S. to its international facilities to avoid the tariff burden." 

The increase in overseas production will be to manufacture products for the European market, not for shipment back to the U.S., according to the filing.

"Europe is a critical market for Harley-Davidson," the company said. "In 2017, nearly 40,000 riders bought new Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Europe, and the revenue generated from the EU countries is second only to the U.S."

But Trump appears to believe Harley-Davidson will manufacture products for the U.S. market overseas, which it so far has not indicated it plans to do with this move. In another tweet Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump threatened the company with more tariffs if it tried to sell internationally manufactured products domestically.

Capra said no bikes manufactured overseas would be sent to the U.S. for sale.

"They'll be, actually, for over there, they're going to try to go around the tariff tax that way," Capra said.

Nicolas Telep is KCUR's morning news intern. You can follow him on Twitter @NDTelep.

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