MADISON, Wis. — John Burke, the president of Trek Bicycle Corp. and the brother of Wisconsin Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, said Thursday that Republican Gov. Scott Walker's latest campaign ad, which references Burke's company, is "absolutely false" and should be taken down.
John Burke spoke to The Associated Press from France making his most public comments yet in the hotly contested race pitting his sister against Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Burke said he was motivated to speak up following Walker's release of an ad Wednesday that said Mary Burke got rich from a company that sent jobs overseas where women and children are paid as little as $2 an hour.
"When people make blatantly false accusations about a company you've spent your lifetime building and you have 1,800 employees who are proud about what they do every day, that just isn't right," John Burke said.
Trek was founded in Waterloo in the 1970s by John and Mary Burke's father and is now the second-largest bike manufacturer worldwide. Mary Burke worked as an executive at Trek twice, leaving the company in 2004.
John Burke said all decisions about where to locate jobs were his and not his sister's. Mary Burke worked for Trek as the head of its European division from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1995 until 2004, with her most recent job being director of planning and strategic planning.
John Burke said Trek does not employ children at its overseas plants. He said Trek has manufacturing plants in China, Germany and Holland and they all strictly follow local labor laws.
"We produce product in a lot of places and there are different wages for different jobs," he said when asked whether workers at the China plant earned $2 an hour. "We always pay in accordance to labor guidelines and rules and what's the standard wage for the area. We're very concerned for workers' rights and the workers' environment."
Walker's campaign stood by the ad running statewide and said it won't be taken down.
"There is no disputing the fact that Mary Burke made millions of dollars off of shipping Wisconsin jobs overseas," said Walker campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre.
But John Burke said if he were governor, he would take the ad down.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "I would be embarrassed."
Mary Burke highlighted her family's business started "in a red barn in Waterloo" when she announced her candidacy in October. She has made it the focus of a recent television ad and frequently refers to Trek as a Wisconsin success story for employing 1,000 people in the state and generating $100 million for the economy every year.
Even Walker, before Burke got into the race, held Trek up as a model Wisconsin company, singling it out as one of five his economic development agency used in a marketing campaign designed to lure more business to the state.