NEW YORK — The growing coalition of groups lobbying to protect the U.S. textile industry from a flood of imports landed two new prominent members on Wednesday.
Wilbur L. Ross, the New York financier who has agreed to buy Burlington Industries Inc. out of bankruptcy, and the apparel union, Unite, joined the group.
The coalition doesn’t plan to stop there.
Ross told his new allies they need to think of an even broader confederation, in what he described as a “war” over U.S. trade policy.
“Right now, the war is a few American companies in each industry, literally against the whole world,” he said during a midday press conference at Arno Ristorante in Manhattan’s Garment District. “What we need is a coalition of all American industries affected by unfair imports.”
Ross told the group of more than 70 executives associated with 17 allied trade groups that a “pan-industrial labor and management coalition” is needed.
In an interview after the meeting, Ross — who also has significant investments in the steel industry — told WWD he was contacting various manufacturing companies, trade groups and unions, and expected to have a broad coalition in place within a month. The yet-to-be-named group’s primary goal would be to influence the outcome of the next Presidential election and ensure U.S. trade policy took center stage.
Harris Raynor, southern regional director for Unite, joked he might not have been met with such a warm welcome from many of the textile executives in the room had he appeared in their company parking lots with a crew of organizers.
He said the fact that management and labor leaders were joining forces illustrated the depth of the textile industry’s problems.
“This is a difficult time for us and this is a time we come together as a group,” he said.
Along with eight other speakers, he said the U.S. needs to radically rethink the trade policy that has caused a sharp erosion in manufacturing employment, especially since President Bush took office in January 2001. As each speaker cited a higher figure of job losses than the last, it caused some listeners to wonder if thousands of jobs were being lost as the meeting went on.According to preliminary seasonally adjusted Labor Department figures, total U.S. nonfarm employment in July stood at 129.9 million, off 2.6 million or 1.9 percent from January 2001. Total manufacturing employment for production workers — as opposed to management — stood at 10.2 million, off 2 million or 16.3 percent. Total employment of production workers within the textile and apparel sectors stood at 455,200, down 235,600 or 34.1 percent.
Like many of his colleagues, John Emrich, president and chief executive officer of Greensboro, N.C.-based Guilford Mills Inc., said he believed the loss of manufacturing jobs is putting the U.S. economic and political strength at risk.
“No one has told me how we’re going to make wealth for the future of America” without manufacturing jobs, he said. “Because you get wealth when you grow it, you make it, you mine it.”
The member organizations of the group, which includes the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, the American Manufacturing Trade Action Committee, the American Yarn Spinners Association and National Textile Association, as well as smaller trade associations, initially joined forces to implore the President to act on the safeguard provisions of the U.S.-China trade deal that cleared the way for China’s entry into the World Trade Organization.
George Shuster, chairman and ceo of Cranston, R.I.-based Cranston Print Works, said, “U.S. trade policy is not pursuing free trade at all.” What it’s achieving, he argued, is “import maximization or foreign outsourcing or unilateral surrender.”
“We’re all demanding that U.S. trade policy be completely overhauled,” he said.
Ross, who serves as chairman and ceo of W.L. Ross & Co., acknowledged there would be challenges in unifying manufacturers from disparate sectors on a common trade platform. Noting that this industrywide textile coalition was only formed this year, he said, “Steel is a little easier than textiles in that there were fewer companies and there weren’t as many divisive issues.”
Still, he insisted, manufacturers have no alternative but to join forces.
“There is no time for tribal warfare here,” he said. “We are very much under siege by foreign enemies. We have to concentrate on foreign enemies.”
Alberta Ferretti's "Rainbow Week" sweaters are back. The designer closed her #MFW show with a few day-of-the-week sweaters, which first debuted on the catwalk last January as part of the pre-fall 2017 collection. #wwdfashion (📷: @delphineachard)