NEW YORK — Eli Elias, former president and executive director of the New York Skirt & Sportswear Association and an outspoken voice for manufacturing, died on Friday in Hollywood, Fla. He was 92.
Elias, as head of what was once one of the largest contractor groups in Manhattan, was an advocate of realistic labor-management relations.
In March 1997, when his organization was negotiating a new contract with UNITE, Elias told WWD: “We’re all, in the domestic industry, at the mercy of the open borders. The union knows this, but they still have a job to perform.”
Jack Glauberman, the executive director and counsel of New York Skirt, which now represents only “a handful of shops,” said on Monday, “Eli was a leader of the sportswear industry and was a true giant of New York manufacturing. There was a time you could walk with him a couple blocks down Seventh Avenue to the 500 Club and he’d be stopped by former cutters, people he negotiated contracts with — everybody knew him.”
The association at its peak had 293 member sewing shops before 1973, when there was a surge in apparel imports. By 1997, the organization had 11 contractor members.
“The bottom line is that we either get some relief from the union, or we all go nonunion and that will be it,” Elias said then. “That’s not a threat, it’s just a matter of survival.”
More than once, Elias summed up his thoughts on the prospects for keeping apparel manufacturing jobs in New York and the U.S. by stating he was “going to say Kaddish,” referring to the Hebrew prayer for the dead.
Commenting on the future of domestic manufacturing in 1994, Elias said, “Unless there is significant change in government trade policy, U.S. production in the apparel industry will not exist 20 years from now.’’
Elias served on the boards of the Garment Industry Development Corp., the Educational Foundation of the Fashion Institute of Technology, the High School of Fashion Industries and the Council for American Fashion.
He is survived by his wife, Sara; a daughter, Roslyn Hazan; two sons, Allan and Richard; nine grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.