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Union Responds To Harley-Davidson Decision To Move Some Work Overseas


A few weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump invited executives from Harley-Davidson to meet with him at the White House. He wanted to highlight the company as a model for American-based manufacturing.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So thank you, Harley-Davidson, for building things in America. I think you're going to even expand. I know your business is now doing very well. And there's a lot of spirit right now in the country that you weren't having so much in the last number of months that you have right now.

KING: But then earlier this year, Harley-Davidson announced it would be shutting down a plant in Kansas City, Mo. And on Monday, the company said it plans to move some of its operations abroad. Harley-Davidson blamed tariffs that the European Union slapped on motorcycles and other goods last week as part of growing trade tensions with the U.S. Then this morning on Twitter, President Trump repeated his criticism of the company's move, saying they were just using tariffs and trade war worries as an excuse. Earlier, we spoke to Joe Capra. He's the union representative for the workers in Harley-Davidson's Kansas City plant.

JOE CAPRA: Thank you for having me on.

KING: Of course. Mr. Capra, Harley-Davidson had already announced earlier this year that it was closing the Kansas City plant and laying off 800 workers there. Now, that's a plant you represent. So your people were already facing some really bad news, regardless. What do you think about yesterday's announcement from Harley-Davidson that it's moving some operations to Europe?

CAPRA: I want to say, yesterday's - what Harley-Davidson announced was a slap in the face for American workers all across the country here. And the great icon of Harley-Davidson is doing these tariffs and moving overseas and continues to move overseas. This is something that is - was just an excuse. And the machinist unions vary on what Harley-Davidson has done because they have been going overseas for some time. They've been in India. They've been in Brazil. And then now they have a plant in Thailand.

KING: So Mr. Capra, what you're saying essentially is that when Harley-Davidson pointed to tariffs by the EU and said, we've got to move some operations over there because it will simply be cheaper, you're saying, to you, that seems like an excuse because Harley-Davidson has been moving operations out of the country for a while now. Is that right?

CAPRA: Yes. Yes, I am. Yes, very much so.

KING: President Trump tweeted something along those lines last night. He said taxes are just a Harley excuse. And he also said, surprised that Harley-Davidson of all companies would be the first to wave the white flag. Is that what this feels like to you, waving a white flag?

CAPRA: It does - not just waving the white flag, but I think that they had this planned for some time, and this is - they're using this as an excuse.

KING: Well, look. Harley-Davidson says opening a plant in Europe and avoiding tariffs will save them from increasing the cost of motorcycles by over $2,000 a bike. Now, there are going to be people who argue Harley-Davidson is a business. They are in business to make money. And this is a smart economic move. What do you say to that?

CAPRA: One of the things that I have to say is that people might think this is a smart economic move, but how many more manufacturing plants are going to be moving over? We need to do something with the tariffs, and we have to. We have to have a sit-down, and we have to have discussions over the tariff attacks on both sides. But we have companies that will take. And we'll lose more jobs here in the United States. It's going to cause the economic crash that obviously will be coming before long.

KING: Mr. Capra, very briefly in the couple of seconds we have left, what is likely to happen to the 800 men and women who are being laid off in Kansas City? Will they find jobs in manufacturing there?

CAPRA: They've been devastated. And they are looking for jobs here. Machinist unions have had - where we have Honeywell, we've tried to get them jobs here in the Kansas City area - and also Spirit.

KING: You doing everything you can.

CAPRA: And we're doing everything we can.

KING: Joe Capra is the union representative for workers in Harley-Davidson's Kansas City plant, which is closing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.