Harley-Davidson plans to close Kansas City plant, announces layoffs

This blow to American manufacturing didn’t make it into Trump’s SOTU address

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published January 31, 2018 3:45PM (EST)

 (Getty/Patrik Stollarz)
(Getty/Patrik Stollarz)

Iconic American motorcycle company Harley Davidson announced on Tuesday that it will be shuttering a Kansas City plant, a decision that will reportedly result in layoffs for 800 employees. The move was announced in a press release that positioned it as a “consolidation” with a Pennsylvania plant.

"The decision to consolidate our final assembly plants was made after very careful consideration of our manufacturing footprint and the appropriate capacity given the current business environment. Our Kansas City assembly operations will leave a legacy of safety, quality, collaboration and manufacturing leadership,"  Matt Levatich, Harley Davidson president and chief executive officer, said in the statement.

It is unsurprising that this news didn’t make it into Donald Trump’s rosy State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, in which the president issued effusive self-praise for his policies while drawing a correlation between his presidency and economic growth — particularly within the manufacturing sector.

“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone,” Trump said. “This, in fact, is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream.”

As the New York Times explained, these numbers are accurate, but the context is misleading. An estimated 169,000 jobs a month have been added since the 2016 election, but prior to that, there were months when 185,000 jobs were added per month, indicating a slight slowdown since Trump took office.

Harley Davidson, a made-in-the-USA company — and one that is trying to build a global customer base beyond American soil — doesn't appear to be reaping the benefits from Trump's  "new American moment."

"Our actions to address the current environment through disciplined supply and cost management position us well as we drive to achieve our long-term objectives to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders globally," Levatich said in the statement.

Local Kansas City news outlet Fox4KC reported that employees of the plant were “dumbfounded” when the news broke.

"Where is my next job? What am I going to do benefits-wise? I have three kids and a single mom. So right now I’m going to go home, eat my breakfast and then we’ll go look for another job," Dominique Alstrok, who works at the plant, told Fox4KC.

The news is politically relevant inasmuch as President Trump has publicly positioned himself as an ally to Harley-Davidson, Indeed, in Feb. 2017, Trump said he met with Levatich:

At our meeting, I asked them, how are you doing, how is business?  They said that it’s good.  I asked them further, how are you doing with other countries, mainly international sales?  They told me — without even complaining, because they have been so mistreated for so long that they’ve become used to it — that it’s very hard to do business with other countries because they tax our goods at such a high rate.

In June, Harley Davidson’s CEO told FOX Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that Trump’s move to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership impacted the company, as Levatich believed the trade deal would have helped his company.

“The whole trade environment can’t be taken in isolated cases and so it’s a very complex issue… TPP was in negotiation for almost a decade before it was unfortunately turned down. That would have helped us a lot,” Levatich said.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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