Athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance is facing a social media backlash over comments a company spokesman made in support of President-elect Donald Trump less than 24 hours after he won the 2016 election.

“The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” said Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs in an interview this week with The Wall Street Journal.

The company, which employs about 900 people in Maine with shoe factories in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Norway, has long opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement that was negotiated by the Obama administration and that critics say could threaten manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

LeBretton’s comment sparked immediate controversy on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with hundreds of people weighing in both in support of and against New Balance, and some opponents threatening to burn the company’s shoes in protest.

 

While Trump opposes the TPP, his unsuccessful rival in the presidential race, Democrat Hillary Clinton, previously supported the agreement negotiated by President Barrack Obama’s administration before coming out against it last year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate’s incoming Senate minority leader said Thursday the trade deal would not be ratified by Congress.

LeBretton, reached by phone Friday morning, said the company is not commenting further on Trump and referred to a statement posted on Facebook that says the company supports community, humanity and acting with integrity. That statement, posted Thursday, had drawn more than nearly 1,000 comments both for and against New Balance by Friday.

 

“My loyalty to New Balance ended today,” wrote one woman. “You endorsed a vile excuse for a human being whose policies are going to cause a lot of suffering to people, animals and the environment. My boyfriend and I have bought your shoes and sportswear for decades, now I’d rather go barefoot than wear anything with the NB logo.”

“Support for Hillary would potentially put New Balance, one of the few remaining U.S. based sneaker companies, out of business,” a man wrote. “The TPP deal would be devastating not only for New Balance but American manufacturing in general. So take your political ideology elsewhere and let our U.S. companies remain profitable which in turn keeps them in business and Americans employed.”

Workers outside the Skowhegan New Balance factory declined to comment Friday afternoon, and a facility security officer called the police when a reporter arrived.

An image posted on Twitter that has been among several denouncing New Balance after a company spokesman made a statement blasting President Barack Obama and in support of President-elect Donald Trump.

An image posted on Twitter that has been among several denouncing New Balance after a company spokesman made a statement blasting President Barack Obama and in support of President-elect Donald Trump. Twitter photo

Brendan Conley, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R- 2nd District, did not respond directly to the statement made by LeBretton in an email Friday, but he said it is “critical that we work to protect and grow jobs across Maine, especially in our state’s manufacturing industry” and said that Poliquin is “firmly opposed” to the TPP.

Poliquin recently won re-election to the House after making his opposition to the TPP and support of legislation aimed at helping preserve New Balance jobs key components of his campaign.

During a visit to the Skowhegan factory in October, he would not comment on whether he supports Donald Trump when asked by a New Balance worker, and he walked away from reporters who asked him the same question. Even after winning re-election, Poliquin has yet to say publicly that he supports Trump.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm