A provision that would require the U.S. military to provide American-made athletic shoes to new recruits is one step closer to becoming law after the Senate on Tuesday passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017.

The legislation is expected to benefit Boston-based New Balance, which has three factories in Maine employing about 900 workers, and which says it has developed a Berry Amendment-compliant shoe that would be supported by the new legislation.

“Every other article of clothing that troops wear is made in the U.S.,” said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who introduced the provision in the Senate last month, in an interview Tuesday. “That’s been the law since the 1940s, and the athletic shoe has been an exception in part because there weren’t athletic shoes made in the U.S. Now there are, and what our amendment does is require the defense department to follow the spirit and letter of the underlying made in the USA law.”

The Berry Amendment mandates that the Department of Defense buy U.S.-made apparel for troops, but a loophole in the amendment has allowed the department for years to give recruits vouchers to buy athletic shoes of their choice, rather than American-made ones.

Members of Congress, including Maine’s delegation, have pushed for the department to adhere to a 2014 promise that if shoes comply with the amendment — with most parts made in America — it will buy the shoes.

The U.S. House approved the NDAA with the provision in April and it is now expected to head to a conference committee where members of both houses of Congress will meet to consolidate the two versions of the bill. It also will have to be signed by the president before becoming law. The language introduced by King is identical to the language U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, introduced before the House, so King said the chances that it will remain in the NDAA are good.


“The goal line is definitely in sight, but we aren’t doing victory dances yet,” King said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who also supported the legislation, said in a prepared statement that the inclusion of the provision “is welcome news for our military members and the nearly 1,000 Maine employees at New Balance.”

The Republican senator said she and King “have long urged the Department of Defense to fully comply with the Berry Amendment and provide service men and women with the highest quality athletic shoes manufactured by U.S. companies like New Balance. As part of this effort, we introduced the Buy American Act earlier this year, and I applaud Senator King’s diligent efforts as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

Matt LeBretton, vice president for public affairs at New Balance, said Tuesday that the legislation, if approved, could allow the company to add jobs, but how many will depend on what contracts are worked out.

“We feel pretty good,” he said, “but this project has had so many twists and turns, we won’t breathe easy until it’s done.”

In addition to New Balance, Wolverine Worldwide, which owns Saucony, also is working on making a Berry Amendment-compliant shoe, something that King said helped advance the provision in the NDAA.


“When we could say, ‘Wait a minute, it’s not just New Balance, it’s also Saucony that will benefit from this,’ that helped,” King said. “When the provision passes, other companies will be able to enter the market as well. We’re hoping it will bring jobs back to the U.S.”

“This is a huge step forward for hundreds of workers in Maine,” Poliquin said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “I commend Senators King and Collins for working to include this important language in the Senate’s version of the defense bill in what we hope will prove to be a landmark victory for hundreds of jobs in Maine.” All three of the Maine New Balance factories are in Poliquin’s district.

Maine House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, also applauded the measure, saying it would benefit workers in Skowhegan and Norridgewock, as well as Norway.

“We need the Department of Defense to deliver on its promise to American manufacturers,” McCabe said in a statement. “It’s time to outfit our service members with the best athletic shoes, which are made with pride right here in central Maine.”

The Portland Press Herald contributed to this report.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368


Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.