WASHINGTON — The apparel and textile union UNITE is out and U.S. furniture manufacturers are in under membership changes at a nascent domestic textile lobbying group spearheaded by textile magnate Roger Milliken and determined to change American trade policy.
Organizers of the year-old American Textile Trade Action Coalition — now renamed the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition — said the group needed to broaden its political base by including producers from other sectors also being battered by import competition. Thus far, the new entity has one chemical and four furniture companies as nontextile members.
“It is absolutely vital that the coalition represent a much greater segment of the U.S. industrial base,” Milliken said in a statement Friday. “It is critical policy makers understand that U.S. trade policy is severely damaging all segments of U.S. manufacturing. Our country must confront the need for a revised trade policy.”
Coalition members contend that U.S. manufacturers have been put at a disadvantage by trade pacts like NAFTA and what they claim is an unwillingness by government officials to aggressively protest foreign trade barriers to American products. The group largely blames unfair import competition for the loss in two years of 2 million U.S. manufacturing jobs, including more than 200,000 in the textile and apparel sectors.
As for UNITE, president Bruce Raynor, one of three founding coalition co-chairs with Milliken, said the union would have remained in ATTAC had it continued as a textile-only organization. Raynor also tied UNITE’s departure from the coalition to the union joining the newly created AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, which has the same U.S.-manufacturing preservation agenda as the coalition.
The union council is “going to work along parallel tracks” with AMTAC’s broader membership, Raynor said, describing UNITE’s separation from the coalition as amicable.
Milliken and UNITE for years have worked on the same side of trade issues in Washington. But when Milliken and Raynor joined forces last year the marriage seemed like an odd couple, given Milliken’s long-standing anti-union sentiments. Rounding out the coalition’s intrigue was the third co-chair, George Shuster, ceo of Cranston Print Works, whose workers have long been represented by UNITE.
Milliken’s Washington lobbyist, Jock Nash, said with a textile-only membership, the coalition’s message had difficulty gaining traction beyond Capitol Hill lawmakers with textile mills in their districts. In addition, with UNITE as a member, attracting more support from southern companies with a nonunion stance also proved difficult.
Raynor said: “It’s safe to say that many people in the textile industry are closer to the Republican leadership and we are closer to the Democratic leadership.”
There was also overall frustration among ATTAC’s 35 members that trade’s downside effects didn’t materialize as a key issue in the 2002 congressional races, Nash said. The broader coalition, which will boost its lobbyists from one to three, hope things will be different in the 2004 elections.
ATTAC’s makeover as AMTAC also comes at a time when the domestic textile lobby is otherwise gaining steam. The National Textile Association, created last year by a merger of the Northern Textile and Knitted Textile associations, is becoming more prominent with its Washington lobbying. In addition, there is the long-standing, but downsized, textile lobby: the American Textile Manufacturers Institute. There is some membership overlap among all these concerns.
There are other U.S. manufacturing lobbying efforts in Washington, including the National Manufacturers’ Association, which has a free-trade agenda aligned with the Bush administration and which AMTAC is fighting.
Rep. Howard Coble (R., N.C.), co-chairman of the House Textile Caucus, who attended the coalition’s reorganizing and annual meeting last week, said the membership changes were needed.
“There is strength in numbers,” said Coble, adding that AMTAC “will fill a void for the domestic manufacturer that has existed for too long.”