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Alaska senator gets tough with XTRATUFS

Margaret BaumanThe Cordova Times
Diane Jeantet / Cordova Times

Don't mess with our XTRATUFs! That's the message U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, sent to Honeywell on Friday regarding its decision to outsource the manufacture of XTRATUF boots to China in 2012.

"This has caused job losses in Illinois and resulted in a significant decline in the quality of the boots relied upon by so many Alaskans," Begich wrote to David Cote, chairman and chief executive officer of Honeywell.

"Because of the place XTRATUFs hold in Alaskans' hearts, I am concerned to hear about a widespread and noticeable decline in their quality," Begich said. "People replacing boots that used to last for years found the new pairs leaked and the soles separated from the uppers after just a few weeks wear. These were not the durable boots Alaskans were used to, earning the new name: 'SORT-OF-TUFs."

News of the declining quality of those beloved "Alaskan sneakers" spread rapidly in July, after Cordova Times reporter Diane Jeantet looked into complaints of fishing guides in Cordova, who said their made-in-China XTRATUFs were falling apart.

"Beyond the argument of whether or not the company should have left its home in Rock Island, Illinois, for cheaper Chinese workforce, both customers and the company say the quality of the produce has suffered from the move. Word around the Cordova harbor is that EXTRATUFs aren't so tough anymore," Jeantet wrote.

In addition to interviews with local fishing guides and a Cordova distributor for the brand, Jeantet spoke with Joe Prax, owner of Prospector Outfitters in Valdez, who said he was hearing similar stories from men working on oil tanks, about their boots falling apart.

Honeywell sales representative Steve Haynes said that in moving the manufacture of XTRATUFs to China, Honeywell has not changed any of the components, and that the boots are being built in the same way.

The problem seems to be poor training given to employees in the Chinese plant.

"We goofed with the training of the people making the boots," Haynes said.

Whatever the reason, Begich is ready to negotiate.

In his letter to Cote, the senator recognized that Honeywell is in the business of returning a profit to its shareholders, and that "there is intense pressure to reduce manufacturing costs. I'm sure Honeywell would be happy to move the manufacturing back to Rock Island to get the high quality American workers can deliver, if it made financial sense to do so," Begich said.

"My concern, however, is the decision to relocate manufacturing was not made solely on the basis of basic business sense, but may have been influenced by incentives in our convoluted tax code that encourage moving jobs offshore and out-sourcing business."

Begich told Cote that by reforming the U.S. tax code, cities like Rock Island can be kept vibrant "and sustain high-quality American-made boots that keep the feet of Alaskan fishermen (and brides) dry.

He invited Cote to offer his insight into how to fix the tax code, to find common sense solutions for both manufacturers and American workers.

Want to add your own comments?

Send them to:

David Cote
Chairman and chief executive officer
Honeywell
101 Columbia Road
Morristown, N.J. 07962

This story first appeared in The Cordova Times. You can reach Margaret Bauman with comments and suggestions at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com