Trump Takes Aim at Goodyear Over Ban on Campaign Attire

The tire company presented its employees with a list of acceptable and unacceptable slogans to be worn at work.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

President Trump called for a boycott of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. GT -3.34% 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 posted 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 frequently taken to Twitter to criticize companies, including some industrial giants such as Boeing Co. BA -0.12% and General Motors Co. His criticism has at times taken executives by surprise, 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 politicized speech are appropriate in the work setting and when to put limits on certain phrases or slogans to help keep the peace among employees.

For instance, Starbucks Corp. told employees earlier this year, during the nationwide protests over the deaths of Black people in police custody, that company policy prohibited any display of slogans relating to a personal, political or religious issue. The company soon after reversed course, distributing 250,000 T-shirts with the “Black Lives Matter” slogan.

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 slogan “Blue Lives Matter” and politically-affiliated slogans—including the “Make America Great Again” message of Mr. Trump’s campaign—were deemed 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 written statement that it asks workers to refrain from displaying support for any campaign or political party in the workplace and limit advocacy, with the exception of expressions related to racial justice and equity issues. The company also said it supports both equality and law enforcement.

Shares in Goodyear were down 4.1% early Wednesday afternoon, with most of that decline coming after the president’s tweet.

Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said she hadn’t seen the tweet yet. But she said Mr. Trump was “putting his own political interests ahead of the good of this country, ahead of a strong economy. 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.”

The latest incident comes as Mr. Trump has interceded in other business matters, including advocating for the sale of the U.S. operations of social-media app TikTok. He has argued that TikTok should be separated from its Chinese owner, ByteDance Ltd., over privacy and national security concerns amid rising tensions with the Chinese government.

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 Chief Executive Safra Catz have close ties to Mr. Trump’s administration and campaign efforts.

Mr. Trump reiterated that any buyer would have to pay the U.S. Treasury for facilitating the sale by issuing 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.

Last year, employees at Alphabet Inc.’s Google criticized the company for limiting expression on political topics and workplace issues. Some right-leaning workers complained 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 his allegations of bias were reported in The Wall Street Journal.

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.

Write to Ben Foldy at [email protected]

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