Could Chinese-Made Bicycles Be a Factor in Wisconsin’s Gubernatorial Race?
In Wisconsin, the governor’s race featuring Republican incumbent Scott Walker – perhaps a potential presidential candidate – and Democrat Mary Burke remains pretty close. The Walker campaign thinks they’ve got an opportunity to damage Burke by pointing out how her family’s business shipped jobs to China:
The dispute over Trek Bicycle Corp. flared up last week. The Walker campaign began airing an ad criticizing Trek, the Burke family business, for outsourcing jobs to low-wage China. Trek has not disclosed how much its contract workers there are paid per hour.
If they’re not disclosing it, we can surmise it’s not much.
For what it’s worth, Trek president John Burke – the brother of the candidate – said, “Mary had nothing to do with sourcing decisions at Trek. Those decisions were made by my father and myself.” Burke is no longer on the board of the company, but owns stock.
So she’s not a direct out-sourcer herself; she just profits from the outsourcing decisions of others. Much better!
And back in 2004 – when she was with the company – the U.S. Department of Labor investigated whether employees at Trek qualified for the “Trade Adjustment Assistance Program,” a federal entitlement program that assists U.S. workers who have lost or may lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade.
The Department of Labor concluded, “The investigation revealed that production and employment at the subject firm declined from 2002 to 2003. The investigation further revealed an increase in company imports of bicycles during the relevant period.” But the Department of Labor concluded the workers did not qualify for one of the forms of assistance because “workers in the workers’ firm do possess easily transferable skills.”
Burke was at “Netroots Nation,” the big progressive blogger conference this weekend. She’s asked about “rumors in the media about you and Chinese employees and the minimum wage – is there any truth to that, or any story behind that?”
Burke’s answer, in its entirety: “I’d be happy to address that. Trek is the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States. Trek employs early 1,000 people in Wisconsin. In addition to $50 million in payroll in Wisconsin, by supporting millions of dollars in goods and services from all other Wisconsin businesses, small businesses across the state, its impact on the Wisconsin economy is incredible. so Trek is very proud to be a great Wisconsin employer, a great contributor to Wisconsin, it was founded nearly 40 years ago right there in Wisconsin, and it has grown to be a global company with its headquarters in Wisconsin.”
That is a nice little series of statements and platitudes that doesn’t reassure anyone in its lack of specifics. Such as – does the company get parts, supplies or other materials from China that it could get in the United States? If so, how many? And if so, how much are the workers who produce those parts, supplies and other materials paid? When did the company start getting these supplies from China and were they available from U.S. suppliers, and at what price?
Also note that when Burke brags that the company is “the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States,” the company wins that distinction by making 10,000 bicycles per year in the U.S…. out of 1.5 million total. So this company makes a LOT of bikes in Germany and China.
Wisconsin liberals have accused her and her family from prospering from outsourcing:
She also claims in the interview that she never made decisions to ship jobs overseas and that she is opposed to unfair trade deals, both claims which aren’t truthful. Burke was a key family member in a family business. In his book, her brother calls her the “brains of the family.” Burke can’t on the one hand take credit for much of Trek’s business success, but then somehow sell the notion that there was a firewall between her and Trek outsourcing thousands of American bike manufacturing jobs.
Plus, Burke is one of Trek’s private owners and currently sits on their board. This is a real-time issue. Did she object or do anything to stop Trek for sending jobs to China? Is she doing anything right now to bring back the Trek jobs back?
During her time at Trek, Burke served as a board member on the Bicycle Parts Suppliers Association (BPSA), a powerful trade association that, among other things, has lobbied for weakening tariffs and free trade. In addition, they’ve defended Chinese manufacturing and fought regulations during the recent Chinese manufacturing lead paint scare.
So, while it is nice to hear Mary Burke bemoan unfair trade deals, the reality is that she in past has fought for them and personally profited from them.
Keep in mind, Mary Burke is running on… raising the minimum wage, and also said the minimum wage hike “wouldn’t affect” her family’s business.
Well, we know it wouldn’t affect those Chinese workers.
Of course, we know how this all ends. Every Madison progressive, every union member, every liberal beating the drum for protecting American jobs who sneered about Mitt Romney’s greed will shrug their shoulders and vote for her… just because she’s the Democrat.