President Trump called for a boycott of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. GT -2.00% in response to reports that the company showed a slide to workers prohibiting the wearing of politically affiliated slogans, such as “Make America Great Again” apparel.
In a tweet Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump wrote: “Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – they announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS. Get better tires for far less!”
Throughout his presidency, Mr. Trump has taken to Twitter frequently to criticize companies, including some industrial giants such as Boeing Co. and General Motors Co. His remarks have sometimes surprised executives, leaving them scrambling to respond to potentially brand-damaging comments intended to influence customers.
The divisiveness of the coming election, coupled with mounting tensions over race and law enforcement, have created difficulties for business leaders looking to regulate political expression in the workplace.
Other companies have also had to wrestle with thorny questions related to what types of political speech are appropriate in work settings and when to limit the use of certain phrases or slogans among employees.
For instance, Starbucks Corp. told employees earlier this year, during the nationwide protests over police killings of Black Americans, that company policy prohibited any display of slogans relating to a personal, political or religious issue. The company quickly reversed course, distributing 250,000 T-shirts saying “Black Lives Matter.”
The flare-up involving Goodyear began Tuesday after a local news station in Kansas published a photograph of a slide presented to company employees with a list of acceptable and unacceptable slogans to be worn at work.
On the acceptable list was the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and slogans supporting LGBT pride, while the police-supporting phrase “Blue Lives Matter” and politically affiliated slogans—including Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign message—were designated unacceptable.
After the president’s tweet, Goodyear responded on Twitter that the photograph had “created some misconceptions about our policies.” The company said in a statement that it asks workers to refrain from displaying support for any campaign or political party in the workplace and to limit advocacy, except for expressions related to racial justice and equity issues. The company also said it supports both equality and law enforcement.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing Wednesday that Goodyear should clarify its speech policy.
“What was clearly targeted was a certain ideology,” she said. “[Mr. Trump] thinks it’s unacceptable. If you can wear a Black Lives Matter hat, guess what? You should be able to wear a Blue Lives Matter one, too.”
Asked whether Mr. Trump’s tweet meant Goodyear would no longer supply tires for the presidential limousine, Ms. McEnany said, “I’m not going to comment on security matters.”
Shares in Goodyear were down roughly 2% midafternoon Wednesday, recovering somewhat after a decline following the president’s tweet.
Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said that she hadn’t seen the tweet yet but that Mr. Trump was “putting his own political interests ahead of the good of this country, ahead of a strong economy.” She added, “He spends a tremendous amount of his time in the White House focused on how things reflect on him personally when he should be thinking about how they impact American families.”
Mr. Trump has interceded previously in other business matters, including advocating for the sale of the U.S. operations of the popular video-sharing app TikTok. He has said TikTok should be separated from its Chinese owner, ByteDance Ltd., over privacy and national security concerns, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Satya Nadella has said he has coordinated with the White House on the company’s efforts to acquire TikTok. Mr. Trump also said Tuesday he would support Oracle Corp. in pursuing the company. Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison and CEO Safra Catz have close ties to Mr. Trump’s administration and campaign efforts.
The president reiterated that any buyer would have to pay the U.S. Treasury for facilitating the sale through his executive orders that would prohibit U.S. users from transacting with TikTok unless it were sold.
“We’re the ones making it possible,” Mr. Trump said.
Legal and economics professors have questioned Mr. Trump’s power to compel such a payment.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google has also grappled publicly with speech issues. Last year, employees criticized the company for limiting expression on political topics and workplace matters. Some right-leaning workers said they had been retaliated against for their views, while left-leaning staff say they were stymied when trying to protest corporate policies around regulating hate speech.
Mr. Trump tweeted support for one right-leaning employee, Kevin Cernekee, after The Wall Street Journal reported on his allegations of bias.
In a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board, Google agreed to inform current employees of their rights to speak openly on topics of workplace diversity and compensation.
—Catherine Lucey contributed to this article.
Write to Ben Foldy at [email protected]
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