The battle to save U.S. textile jobs is heating up. At a Sept. 3 press conference in New York City, the largest textile and apparel labor union in the country announced that it is joining the effort to slow the surge of Chinese cotton imports.

“We look forward to working hand-in-hand with textile and apparel industry management to change U.S. trade policy for the better,” says Bruce Raynor, president of UNITE, which represents 250,000 apparel, textile, laundry and distribution workers in the United States and Canada.

The move comes less than one month after dozens of textile and fiber industry executives announced the initiation of a grassroots lobbying campaign designed to stem the tide of Chinese imports. The coalition of industry leaders also filed a safeguard petition July 24 with the government Committee for Implementation of Textile Agreements, which would enable quotas be reinstated on Chinese textile exports into the U.S. market. If enforced, industry leaders say, the safeguard would slow the surge of Chinese imports of cotton knits and apparel into U.S. markets.

“It is unacceptable for countries like China, that don't respect basic human rights or environmental standards, to flood our market, destroy entire industries, and put hundreds of thousands of men and women out of work,” Raynor says. “The July 31 closure of Pillowtex is a good illustration of what's wrong with current trade policy.”

The more than 6,000 workers affected by the closure, he says, now join over 810,000 U.S. textile and apparel workers who have lost their jobs since December 1994. “That's over half of the textile and apparel workers in this country whose jobs have disappeared in less than nine years. Free trade isn't helping America; it is destroying it. Free trade is outsourcing many of our best jobs to sweatshops overseas and bleeding the country to death,” Raynor says.

Gaylon Booker, Immediate Past President of the National Cotton Council, says, “Farmers are being hurt by the destruction of the U.S. manufacturing industry, too. Domestic mill consumption of cotton is down by approximately 40 percent. When U.S. manufacturers like Pillowtex are forced into bankruptcy, U.S. cotton farmers are losing their best customers.”

The U.S. trade deficit with China in textile and apparel products has jumped 45.4 percent in the first five months of 2003.

According to the coalition of textile industry leaders, China uses currency practices that are illegal under world trade rules, to give its products an estimated 40 percent advantage over U.S. produced textile and apparel goods. China also heavily subsidizes its textile sector, and over one-third of China's textile output last year came from money-losing operations. The U.S. government has thus far refused to take action against China regarding these practices, the group says.

William E. Giblin, president of Tweave Inc. and chairman of the National Textile Association, says, “Nearly every segment of the U.S. textile, fiber, and apparel manufacturing sector has come together in a united fashion to lobby in support of the China textile safeguard petitions. We would especially like to welcome UNITE to the coalition. All of us are rolling up our sleeves and pulling on the same rope in this grassroots advocacy campaign.”

George Shuster, CEO of Cranston Print Works, takes it one step further saying, “Since January 2001, more than 300,000 textile and apparel jobs have been lost. Moreover, the United States ran a $61 billion trade deficit in textile and apparel goods in 2002. If the federal government refuses to change the flawed trade policies that generated those numbers, the U.S. textile and apparel industry is in grave danger.”

Bill Horowitz, CEO of The Amerbelle Corporation, bluntly adds, “Our trade negotiators have turned a blind eye to China's tactics - illegal transshipments, illegal currency manipulation and illegal government subsidies, all of which the importers claim to be ‘fair trade.’ At a time when our nation is at war, even our ability to clothe and supply our armed forces has been significantly diminished as hundreds of U.S. companies have been forced to close. The American people are starting to awaken to the disastrous consequences of our current trade policies, and they are demanding action from our elected officials. Rhetoric will not do — we need results.”

John Emrich, CEO of Guilford Mills, says, “There is a mechanism, the special China textile safeguard, which can slow job-destroying Chinese imports. We intend to generate as many individualized e-mails and letters as we can from textile and apparel industry employees to the Congress and the President in support of the China safeguard petitions filed on July 24.”

“It is simply not fair to ask us to compete with 40 cents/hour labor, currency manipulation, transshipment and other illegal trade practices,” says Albert Safer, CEO of Safer Textile Processing. “We will lobby our federal, state and local officials to support our campaign to save what is left of the U.S. textile and apparel industry.”


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com