Workers running hard to hold jobs in Maine

July 29, 2011 at 12:53 PM
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NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine, July 29 (UPI) -- Workers at a Maine shoe factory say they are running hard to keep their jobs despite worries a free trade agreement could flood the market with cheap shoes.

"We hustle," said Scott Boulette, a team leader at the New Balance sneaker plant in Norridgewock, Maine, where workers in the labor-intensive business have ramped up production about 9 percent since 2004, The Washington Post reported Friday.

"We want to fight really hard to keep this business in Maine. I'd like to keep my job," said Lori Cook, a single mom.

But workers also wonder if they are running to beat the clock and the mathematics that will change if a free trade agreement is put in place.

Workers in Maine are aware they make better than $10 per hour, while counterparts in China make $1.50 per hour. In addition, the Obama administration is trying to reach a free trade agreement with Vietnam that would eliminate what industry workers call the "shoe tax," a tariff that helps keep U.S. shoe production competitive.

The free trade agreement is expected to benefit other U.S. industries, including paper mills and electronics firms.

At the shoe industry's peak in the United States in the 1950s, there were 250,000 U.S. workers producing footwear. There are only 15,000 U.S. workers left in shoe production, and the New Balance plant is the last major shoe producer with factories in the country, the newspaper said.

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