Maine Aims to Buy American

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
May 06 2021 |
Whitney and Ben Waxman of American Roots are among the business owners voicing support for the “Buy American and Build Maine Act.” Photo courtesy American Roots

The “Buy American and Build Maine Act” would require state government and agencies to buy American-made products and give preference to goods manufactured in the Pine Tree State.

Maine Senate President Troy Jackson introduced legislation this week designed to make sure that when the Pine Tree State spends taxpayer dollars, that money is reinvested into Maine-based businesses, workers and American manufacturers.

The goal of the “Buy American and Build Maine Act,” according to Jackson, is to support Maine-based businesses and jobs whenever taxpayer dollars are spent. At least 38 states already have similar legislation on the books, and it’s time for Maine to lift up “the workers, businesses, and quality, manufactured products in our own backyard.”

He continued:

“This proposal is simple. If there is work that needs to be done in this state and in this country, and taxpayers are footing the bill, then the people living, working and paying taxes in this state and country should have the opportunity to do the job. And if there are materials or parts needed to do the job, those materials should be American-made whenever possible.”

AAM’s own Brian Lombardozzi was among those who testified on Wednesday before the Maine Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee in favor of the legislation.

“Reinvesting tax dollars into the local and national economy promotes growth, expands the tax base, and – by creating more job opportunities for middle-class Americans – reduces the burden on social safety net programs,” Lombardozzi said.

“Maine state agencies are already accustomed to applying Buy America preferences when executing programs funded by federal grants,” he later added. “This longstanding practice by the federal government, and many state governments, is well-understood by contracting officers and bidders on public projects. Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and others all have similar domestic preferences in statute.”

Jackson noted that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine workers and manufacturers “stepped up to serve and support our communities.” One of those companies was American Roots, which normally makes hoodies and other apparel but switched to making face masks and PPE in March 2020.

Ben Waxman from American Roots said the legislation will help companies like his be given the opportunity to compete against companies from overseas that don’t abide by the same rules and standards.

American Roots makes its products with 100% American-made materials, and its workers are represented by the United Steelworkers and IUPAT DC 35 screen printers, Waxman said. The company pays good wages, provides, good benefits, and offers a healthy and safe work environment.

American Roots grew its staff from 30 people to more than 120 people to make over 1 million masks and over 250,000 face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic. But because it pays a good wage and uses locally-sourced materials – things that should be rewarded – American Roots faces an unfair playing field when it brings its products to market.

“If you’re making a mask for $0.98 a piece, you’re not paying people living wages, you’re not using materials made in the USA and that needs to change,” Waxman said.

That’s where the Buy American Build Maine Act can help, Waxman added.

“We are known as a state filled with incredibly hard-working and innovative people, it is time that those people are able to compete on a level playing field especially when it comes to the goods and services of the state,” he said. “Passing Buy American, Build Maine legislation is a first step in leveling the playing field for the hard-working women and men of Maine, who are often competing against a global economy that is unfairly rigged against them.”

Waxman wasn’t the only manufacturer who testified on Wednesday. Kathie Leonard of Auburn Manufacturing, Inc., which has been making heat and fire-resistant materials for 42 years, also testified.

“I’m glad to have my business in the state of Maine. We have 50 hardworking people who have been with us a long time and they’re highly skilled at what they do. We pay good wages and provide good benefits and we support our communities,” Leonard said. “If there is going to be federal money that flows through the state for infrastructure products, Maine businesses and American manufacturing should benefit, especially after all we’ve been through this past year.”

Adam Goode, legislative and political director for the Maine AFL-CIO, noted that manufacturers that make their products overseas “avoid being held to the same standards as local companies.” That includes basic rules like workplace safety, child labor standards, and environmental protection.

“Manufacturing overseas often results in working people being exploited through unsafe and deplorable conditions at their job. Voting to pass this bill would help minimize that practice. Procuring iron, steel and other goods through overseas manufacturing undermines American companies that play by the rules,” Goode said. “Why should we reward companies that off-shore and avoid playing by the rules?”

The Buy American and Build Maine Act is expected to be considered in a future work session in the state legislature. We’ll keep an eye on the bill as it works its way through the legislative process.