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Harley-Davidson Workers React To News Of Shifting Some Production Overseas


President Trump had more tough words for Harley-Davidson today about the company's decision to shift some of its production overseas. The company said yesterday that it is doing that because ongoing trade tensions mean its motorcycles will cost more in Europe. In response, Trump tweeted that the decision would ruin Harley-Davidson's aura as an American company, and he threatened it with higher taxes. NPR's Jim Zarroli looks at how workers at the company are reacting.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Harley-Davidson hasn't said which of its U.S. plants would be affected by its production shift, but it could mean layoffs at its factory in Menomonee Falls, Wis. So the people who work there have a lot at stake in the ongoing trade dispute. But if you talk to them, many of the workers say they support President Trump's tariffs even if it means they lose their jobs, some said. They say the trade war is mostly the fault of other countries. Here was one contract worker at the plant.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If you really look at it, it's the people that - the different countries that have been kind of burdening us with these unfair tariffs over the last decades and us trying to correct the course now is really who's to blame.

ZARROLI: This worker, like all the other employees interviewed for this story, didn't want his name used because he's afraid of losing his job. He said there's debate inside the plant about Trump's policies, and some people don't like them. But all of the workers we talked to thought Trump is doing the right thing.

Outside the plant, a small group of workers were smoking cigarettes yesterday. He's just trying to save American industry, one man said. Another said the president must have a good reason for doing battle against U.S. trading partners.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I mean, he wouldn't do it for no reason. I look at him as a very smart businessman. And, I mean, if he feels that's what he needed to do, that's what he needed to do.

ZARROLI: And he said even if he loses his job at the plant, he should be able to find another one. The Milwaukee area is booming, which he credits to Trump. None of this surprises Charles Franklin, who directs the Marquette Law School Poll. Just like in other states, Trump's approval rating among working-class whites in Wisconsin is relatively high. And many of those Trump supporters like his trade policies.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: So you really see the power of the president to convince his supporters that his tariff path is going to help the economy, not hurt it.

ZARROLI: Franklin says many Trump supporters believe the country has been victimized by unfair trade practices. And as they see it...

FRANKLIN: Trump is trying to do something about those practices. And we were in trouble already. So in that sense, it's not Trump's fault that we're in trouble now.

ZARROLI: And Franklin says there's probably not a lot of sympathy among the workers for Harley-Davidson. The company has been slowly shifting production overseas for some time to plants in Brazil and India. More than 500 miles to the southwest in Kansas City sits another Harley-Davidson plant that's scheduled to be closed next year. Standing outside the plant, another longtime Harley-Davidson worker blamed the company for the closure, not the president.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Their tax break's up. They had a 20-year tax break, and now it's gone. Now they're moving overseas so they can get a better tax break. That's what it's all about. It's all about the dollar.

ZARROLI: In fact he said he voted for President Trump in the last election, and he'd gladly do it again. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.