Even after Harley Davidson became the first American company "to wave the white flag" and announce, in an 8-K filing, that it planned to move some production offshore to compensate for EU tariffs, the workers at the Harley Davidson plant in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin are standing by their president even though the Financial Times reports that "they could end up as collateral damage."
Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag. I fought hard for them and ultimately they will not pay tariffs selling into the E.U., which has hurt us badly on trade, down $151 Billion. Taxes just a Harley excuse - be patient! #MAGA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
The company said Monday that it would increase production at its facilities in India, Brazil and Thailand to avoid paying some $100 million - or roughly $2,000 per bike - in tariffs to the EU.
But this decision hasn't translated into worker anger directed at the president. An informal survey of workers during a smoke break at the factory by the FT found that most - if not all - support President Trump's bid to revive American manufacturing by instigating a trade fight, even if Harley's EU sales have risen as a percentage of the company's overall sales in recent years.
What's more, several workers appear to agree with President Trump's assessment that the company's decision to move production is "just a Harley excuse" after Harley closed its plant in Kansas City. In other words, the company is taking advantage of the EU tariffs, and opportunistically "blaming it on Trump."
Mark, another Harley worker sitting astride his motorbike during the afternoon shift change at this plant that employs about 1,000 workers, said: "I think Harley is just using it as an excuse" to move more production overseas, after a recent decision to close the company’s Kansas City plant. "They will just blame it on Trump."
Asked by the FT whether they blame Trump for Harley's offshoring decision, most workers said they only blamed the EU, and that, regardless of the fallout, it wouldn't change their vote.
Asked whether they blame the president or the EU for causing Harley’s offshoring decision, most say emphatically that they blame only the Europeans. "The president was just trying to save the US aluminum and steel industry," one said approvingly.
Harley-Davidson said on Monday that it maintained a "strong commitment to US-based manufacturing," but that its facilities in India, Brazil and Thailand would increase production to avoid paying the EU tariffs that would have cost it as much as $100m.
When asked whether the latest news could make him vote against Mr Trump if he runs for a second term in 2020, one worker, who gave his name only as Tod, replied: "No, I don’t think so. It’s going to take a little bit more than that. He’s doing good things. We’ll just have to see who runs on the other side, that might change my vote."
Workers at the Harley plant also expressed optimism that they would be able to find another job if they were laid off, largely because the US economy is booming. "He's making changes, trying to get the country back where it needs to be," one worker told the FT. And how he does it may matter less than the idea that he's trying to "Make American Great Again."
While anecdotal and unscientific, the story is good news for Republicans worried about the impact of escalating trade wars on the midterm elections. Voters in midwestern rust-belt states like Wisconsin - which hadn't voted Republican for president in 30 years before Trump came along - still strongly support the president and his agenda, even as their jobs are in peril. A recent poll showed that most Americans support the president's agenda, and more than 40% - the highest percentage since he took office - say they support or strongly support the president.