Goodyear Caught in Political Crossfire, Nationwide Boycott
Goodyear found itself in a hornet’s nest this week, following a leaked diversity training slideshow that included a ban on Make America Great Again (MAGA) attire and sentiments. Incoming Goodyear employees at its plant in Topeka, Kansas, were allegedly warned about inappropriate political displays.
While “Black Lives Matter” and “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride” were considered acceptable, “Blue Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” “MAGA Attire” and “Political Affiliated Slogans or Material” were listed in the unacceptable section.
The leak quickly garnered ire from President Trump as it circulated around the internet, who used social media to effectively support the preexisting campaign to boycott the company’s tires — adding that he would make sure Goodyear rubber is removed from the presidential limousine, posthaste. As you might have expected, this kicked up a media storm that brought more attention to the boycott Goodyear never wanted, while also placing it the center of a political fracas.
While the media has broadly framed this as “cancel culture” — something Trump and the GOP has consistently condemned — boycotts frequently offer a path to redemption and often exist as way to encourage change.
Meanwhile, cancel culture typically serves to unseat specific problematic individuals after having committed a presumed offense, as well as bring about the general removal of content deemed unsavory by those enacting social justice. Funnily enough, Trump has conflated boycotts with cancel culture in the past, and the media now seems to be doing the same to him. But we’re not interested in diving into the political swamp any further than necessary. For our purposes, the important issue is how badly this seems to be impacting Goodyear’s business… and attempting to uncover what actually happened.
That’s been made difficult by the tire company denying the image in question was created or distributed by its corporate office. Goodyear suggests it was not part of any diversity training course for new hires. However, it also didn’t claim the image had been digitally manipulated, nor did it deny that the slide was used for a presentation in Topeka. It likewise said it supported bans on political messaging within the company, creating an odd level of conflict in respect to its own guidelines.
“To be clear on our longstanding corporate policy, Goodyear has zero tolerance for any forms of harassment or discrimination,” Goodyear explained in a statement. “As part of this commitment, we do allow our associates to express their support on racial injustice and other equity issues but ask that they refrain from workplace expressions, verbal or otherwise, in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party as well as other similar forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of equity issues.”
It should be said that tons of companies openly supported the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization following the civil unrest that occurred in response to the death of George Floyd — either financially, or through corporate messaging. It was commonplace, and they were all well within their rights as private entities. But Goodyear doesn’t seem to understand that this stance is already in violation of its own stated terms. BLM (the organization) is overtly political and qualifies as a political entity for all intents and purposes, even if the slogan by itself does not.
Which makes this whole issue incredibly murky. However, the die had been cast, and Goodyear was now being mentioned in White House press briefings, starting with Trump answering questions about whether supported the boycott and what would happen if it cost people jobs. “I would be very much in favor of people [who] don’t want to buy there. And you know what, they’ll be able to get a good job,” he said. “You’ll be able to get another good job. I think it’s disgraceful that [Goodyear] did this.”
On Wednesday evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany accused Goodyear of targeting conservatives and said the company needed to make its corporate policies absolutely clear to avoid any further confusion.
By now there’s no real way for the tire company to handle this without alienating a large portion of its customer base.
As the issue gained traction online, even Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden brought it up. “President Trump doesn’t have a clue about the dignity and worth that comes with good-paying union jobs at places like Goodyear — jobs that can support a family and sustain a community,” he said.
So now this is an union issue, too? Jesus.
This whole thing has spun out of control, reaching a point where Goodyear’s PR team is probably banging their heads against a wall in the hope that they’ll have a good idea (or be knocked unconscious until the news cycle resets). Damage control has been limited to messaging expressing support for all concepts that were slighted in the slide while indicating a strong commitment toward “fostering an inclusive and respectful workplace where all of our associates can do their best in a spirit of teamwork.” Typical stuff, really.
But real damage is likely to be done to Goodyear’s bottom line. Studies indicate that Americans are increasingly motivated to buy from outfits that align with their personal/political beliefs. An Accenture study suggested this phenomenon probably encompassed around two-thirds of the population in 2018. That’s a lot of tires.
Meanwhile, the business’ stock price went from about $10 per share when the slide-related boycott started gaining traction over the weekend, to around $9.45. While not an outright disaster, the loss is worth noting — even if the general trend of its corporate stock has been seesawing downward since the start of 2018.
[Image: Grindstone Media Group/Shutterstock]