Labor Secretary William E. Brock said yesterday that his department will "take immediate action to help alleviate unemployment and related problems in the shoe industry."
President Reagan, after refusing Wednesday to impose quotas or tariffs to protect the domestic industry from foreign competition, directed Brock to work with state and local officials to develop retraining programs for an estimated 27,000 unemployed shoe workers.
But officials in some shoe-producing states said federal job training and adjustment assistance is an inadequate solution for the shoe industry's woes, and they vowed to press Congress for shoe import restrictions.
About 14,200 industry jobs were lost in the 12-month period ended in June, and employment in the industry has declined 48 percent since 1968, to about 120,700 workers in 1984, according to the Footwear Industries of America, a trade group representing shoe manufacturers.
The industry group had fought for quotas to hold back a flood of imported shoes that captured 71.5 percent of the domestic shoe market last year.
Brock said he is asking the Employment and Training Administration to pinpoint where the shoe industry has suffered. "Once the areas have been defined, I will confer with the governors of those states affected by this specific problem to help determine the extent and type of assistance required in each of those areas," Brock said.
"I will ensure that state, and/or federal, Title 3 Job Training Partnership Act funds are available for specific proposals to assist dislocated workers in the shoe industry obtain job-search, retraining and relocation assistance immediately," Brock said in a statement. The program should be under way, and the assistance available, within 60 days, he said.
A Labor Department spokesman said Brock would not specify the amount of federal money that might be targeted for shoe workers, and did not suggest increasing funds for the program.
The Federal Trade Commission released a study in July that concluded that adjustment assistance for unemployed shoe workers would cost $77 million over five years, while import restrictions could cost consumers $247 million in higher shoe prices and cost the total economy as much as $940 million.
Reagan estimated that import quotas would have cost U.S. consumers $26,300 per job saved, in an industry with an average wage of about $14,000 a year. Other government agencies and private economists have estimated the cost of import quotas at $50,000 to $80,000 per job saved.
Some officials from shoe-producing states said yesterday that retraining assistance is an inadequate substitute for import restrictions, which they say would save jobs while allowing the shoe industry a chance to modernize its operations to become more competitive.
Brock's plan for targeted job training assistance "is well intended, but doesn't address the magnitude of the problem in Maine," said David Cheever, spokesman for Gov. Joseph E. Brennan, who lobbied for shoe import quotas.
Maine is the largest footwear-producing state in the country, accounting for 12.1 percent of domestic production in 1983. Shoe industry employment in the state has dropped 29 percent in two years, to about 12,000 workers.
"The program Brock is talking about is well and good if you have other jobs and other industries" to absorb unemployed shoe workers, Cheever said. "We want quotas to keep these people's jobs now."
Maine currently is receiving about $1.8 million in federal assistance for training displaced workers, most of them former shoe workers, according to the state labor department. The state plans to spend $108,000 of its own money on a pilot training program, set to begin next month. "Some retraining must occur, and we welcome federal assistance," Cheever said.
Massachusetts, once the capital of the U.S. shoe industry and now the fourth-largest shoe producer, plans to get its share of federal retraining funds. But the administration's emphasis on adjustment assistance "is an unfortunate response" to the industry's problems, said James R. Dorsey, spokesman for Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who had urged the president to limit shoe imports.
"We wonder where the Reagan administration plans to find the money Mr. Brock is talking about," said Tom Lewis, a spokesman for New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.