Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

AFL-CIO, Top U.S. Companies Flee President's Manufacturing Council

By Tina Casey

President Trump's failure to respond vigorously to last weekend's display of white nationalist violence in Virginia is being met with an equal and opposite response by some of the nation's top corporate citizens. In the latest development, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka quit the president's American Manufacturing Council, following the lead of the heads of Merck, Intel and Under Armour.

The moves are more than symbolic. Trump pivoted his presidential campaign around creating new manufacturing jobs and he continues to lean on that theme while in office. Losing hearts and minds in the upper echelons of the industry is not a particularly effective way to support that rhetoric.

AFL-CIO makes up for lost time

Trumka took an extra day to announce his resignation, perhaps taking time to secure sign-off for the strong words he used. While other directors were circumspect, Trumka did not beat around the bush:

Intel: what was inside, is now out

Similarly, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich did not mince words. In a blog post on Monday night, he stated that his intention in resigning was to "call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues."

Though he does not mention the president by name, he all but lays the blame on Trump personally:

"...earlier today I called on all leaders to condemn the white supremacists and their ilk who marched and committed violence. I resigned because I want to make progress, while many in Washington seem more concerned with attacking anyone who disagrees with them. We should honor – not attack – those who have stood up for equality and other cherished American values. I hope this will change, and I remain willing to serve when it does."

The blog post closes with a plea to set aside politics and "focus on what is best for the nation as a whole."

Intel's absence means Dell is the only tech company left on the council. Dow Chemical, Nucor, CE and others remain.

Merck takes the heat

As of this writing, Krzanich has not become the target of one of the President's notorious Twitter attacks. It's a different story for Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier.

Although Frazier also did not mention Trump by name, he did personalize his decision to withdraw from the Manufacturing Council, stating that, "as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

That almost instantly provoked a series of two Twitter responses from President Trump, who took the opportunity to prevail upon Merck to "LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES."

The attack may come back to bite Trump. Longtime CNBC pundit Jim Cramer is among those pointing out that under Frazier's leadership, Merck is "has not been at the forefront of raising prices for the sake of raising prices."

No word yet on whether or not Trump is working on new federal policies that would actually help make drugs more affordable. In fact things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

Under Armour, over and out

The case of Under Armour is particularly interesting because it involves a celebrity endorsement issue.

Under Armour got its brand into hot water last February when CEO Kevin Plank offered up some mild praise of President Trump in the course of a televised interview.

That was a bad move considering that the company is headquartered in Baltimore, where Hillary Clinton garnered almost 85 percent of the vote (she won Maryland with just over 60 percent).

The timing was also horrible. The interview took place shortly after the rollout of Trump's first Muslim ban, and hundreds of U.S. companies were already taking a public stand against the President.

Piling on the hurt was Under Armour spokesperson Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He posted a vigorous response on Instagram:

“I partner with brands I trust and with people who share my same values. That means a commitment to diversity, inclusion, community, open-mindedness and some serious hard work … Great leaders inspire and galvanize the masses during turbulent times, they don’t cause people to divide and disband. My responsibility here is not only to the global audience we serve, but also to the thousands of workers who pour blood, sweat, and tears into making Under Armour strong.”

Plank quickly backpedaled but the company retained its membership in the Manufacturing Council -- until now.

On Monday Plank deployed his Twitter account to make it clear that "Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics." The full statement was posted on the Under Armour website:

“...I am appreciative of the opportunity to have served, but have decided to step down from the council. I love our country and our company and will continue to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity diversity and inclusion.”

Plank refrained from going so far as to call out President Trump by name or make reference to the violence in Virginia, but his meaning was clear.

Judging from the comments on Monday's tweet, his meaning was also clear to people who use their wallets to make political statements:

The bottom line benefit of cutting ties with Trump

Like many companies in the apparel and sporting goods sector, Under Armour took a beating in the stock market last year.

The decision to cut ties with Trump probably won't hurt the company's bottom line and could very well help, partly by freeing it up to take more vigorous positions on other matters supported by popular opinion.

Plank already has a good jump on the issue of climate change. He registered Under Armour's official position on June 2, the day after Trump announced that the U.S. would back down from its climate pledge:

"...I believe in keeping one’s word and doing everything possible to execute on our commitments.

We at Under Armour are disappointed by the Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement...Climate change is real and must be taken seriously by our business community, our customers, our neighbors and our elected officials. Sustainability has always been part of our DNA: it’s integral to how we live and work and is essential to our environment. As a business leader concerned with creating American jobs, I disagree with the decision to exit the Paris Accord.

Our word matters and it is our collective responsibility to help protect Mother Earth."

Expect to hear more from Plank  -- and other top business leaders -- in the weeks and months to come.

Image credit: Under Armour 

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey