New Balance Gets Congressional Support To Change Berry Amendment Exception

New Balance is getting some notable local support for its efforts to grow U.S. footwear manufacturing.

Just days after New Balance took the Department of Defense to task for backing out of an agreement to supply athletic shoes to the military, two New England politicians are making a push on behalf of U.S. footwear producers.

The Stepping Up for American Workers and Troops Act was introduced in Congress on Wednesday by Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts and co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine. The legislation would require the defense department to purchase U.S.-made training shoes for new recruits. Previously, athletic shoes had been an exception to a 1941 law called the Berry Amendment, which required the military to purchase U.S. produced and sourced goods.

For several years, U.S. athletic shoe makers have pushed to get training shoes included in the Berry Amendment, and in 2014, the Department of Defense agreed to fold U.S.-made training shoes into their requirements. Up until now, however, the military has still offered a stipend to recruits to buy any athletic shoe they want.

“This legislation is really about holding the defense department to what it’s already committed to do,” Rep. Tsongas told Footwear News. “New Balance brought to our attention that it was possible to produce a training shoe that was Berry-compliant. But as we’ve pursued this issue, there are other shoe manufactures in other places as well and also saw this as an issue.”

Tsongas said that she’d explored legislation before, but when the defense department volunteered to make the switch in 2014, they stepped back. In light of the fact the military had yet to take action, she said they decided to present a bill.

“I respect [New Balance] and their commitment to manufacturing in the United States, but the reality is that in order for this to happen, there has to be more than one company who can compete for this,” said Tsongas. She said she’s seen 12 companies express interest in producing Berry compliant shoes for the military.

New Balance has footwear factories in both Tsongas and Poliquin’s districts.

The news follows an announcement by New Balance on Tuesday saying it was coming out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, arguing the deal would hurt its U.S. production facilities. The athletic company said it hoped that a deal with the military would help bolster some of its business against a wave of lower-taxed, imported sneakers from Vietnam.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association president and CEO Rick Helfenbein reiterated this week that the Berry Amendment was “vital to the survival of the U.S. textile, apparel and footwear manufacturing industry. Failure to fully implement and enforce the Berry Amendment on a timely basis erodes the ability of U.S. government contractors to create and sustain U.S. manufacturing jobs that are key to the growth of our economy.”

Even if the Berry Amendment gets extended to athletic footwear, and if New Balance were to receive a contract from the Department of Defense, company executives said they would not support TPP.

“We hope the DOD will at least show a good-faith effort in following the Berry law,” said Matt LeBretton, VP of public affairs at New Balance. “We’re going to continue to work against TPP. We didn’t like it from the get-go, and we’re not taking any further action on the false hope of promise. It’s a big moment for a company like us to do what we’ve done, and we’re not going to walk it back because the Pentagon decides to follow the law.”

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services.

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