NORWAY — Josh Lebovitz, a temporary employee working at the New Balance shoe factory, listened Thursday as a visiting congressman talked to a group of workers about protecting American jobs.
By the end of the day, however, he was out of a job, perhaps as a result of the visit, according to Lebovitz.
When U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, finished talking about legislation he pushed to help the plant, employees going back to their duties walked up to the Republican lawmaker, most of them shaking hands on the way. Poliquin thanked them for their hard work.
Lebovitz, who had been working at the factory for a month and a half, said he is “pretty much apolitical” and didn’t want anything to do with the politician — especially when he noticed a photographer taking pictures of the scene.
Forced to walk past, Lebovitz said he shunned Poliquin’s outstretched hand and muttered, “The definition of fascism is the merger of corporate and state.”
A nearby reporter who witnessed the scene said that Lebovitz said no as the congressman extended his hand.
Poliquin smiled in response and replied, “Okay then.”
Lebovitz then went back to work, slapping stickers on shoeboxes.
When he got home at the end of the day, his employer, Bonney Staffing Center, phoned him and asked if anything had gone wrong at the job. Lebovitz said no, then heard that New Balance didn’t want him to return.
Only after hanging up did Lebovitz wonder if his words earlier in the day had come back to haunt him. Bonney officials said they could not discuss anything to do with their employees or assignments. New Balance pointed out that he was not a full-time worker — merely a temporary one — but insisted it could say no more on the matter.
Sitting at his dining room table in a small Maple Street house Friday morning, Lebovitz said he quickly realized after hearing from his employer that he “probably shouldn’t have said that” to Poliquin.
He said he’s sure that his departure from the plant “was retaliation because I snubbed a politician.”
“I’m pretty much convinced that was my kiss of death,” said Lebovitz, a former casino dealer who moved to Maine from Connecticut two years ago.
“This is absurd,” said Michael Byerly, a Poliquin campaign spokesman. He said the congressman “has spent the past two years fighting for the employees at New Balance.”
Lebovitz said he had received no hint that his services would not be needed any longer. He said he had the impression from his team leaders and trainees that he might have a long career with the company.
His first assignment at New Balance had been to lace shoes all day — a tiring job that left his hands and fingers aching — but he’d moved on to cementing soles. This week, though, after a vacation, they had him putting stickers on boxes, a task he admitted didn’t seem too promising for the long haul.
But he thought his team was getting new, better work soon.
Lebovitz said he can’t prove New Balance let him go because of his comment to Poliquin, “but we all know” it’s the reason. He said he doesn’t “have an ax to grind,” but he’s unhappy to lose his position.
Lebovitz said he phoned Poliquin’s district office late Thursday to complain. He said he also left a message for the congressman: “Thank you for costing me my job.”