GRANITEVILLE - Industry officials say furloughed jobs at five Avondale Mills Inc. textile plants in Graniteville and at another factory in Alabama are proof of both the punishing impact of imported clothing from China and the need for a change in U.S. trade policy to protect American jobs.
"Here we've got another of the largest producers in the United States having to adjust to the onslaught of goods from China," said Lloyd Wood, a spokesman for the American Manufacturing Trade Action Committee.
Job losses in the textile industry are accelerating at an alarming rate, Mr. Wood said, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that show 18,200 workers lost apparel and textile jobs in July alone, including those who were given pink slips by Pillowtex and four other Avondale plants in Alabama and North Carolina.
The American Textile Manufacturers Institute warns that 630,000 textile jobs will be lost and 1,300 plants will close by 2006, one year after the last quotas on Chinese apparel imports get lifted.
North Carolina will be the hardest-hit textile state, with 85,000 projected job losses, and South Carolina will lose 42,000 jobs, according to a study released in early July by the textile institute. Georgia will lose 25,000 jobs, the study predicts.
Avondale, with its heavy reliance on orders from jeans manufacturer Levi Strauss Co., has seen a drop in orders, Mr. Wood said. A company spokesman, Craig Crockard, said the furlough should be temporary.
Mr. Wood said the impact of Chinese goods is already so severe that the temporary suspension could become permanent.
Cass Johnson, a senior vice president at the textile institute, hadn't heard of the Avondale furloughs, but he said he was not surprised.
"That's bad news," he said. "What happened to Avondale illustrates that not even the most modern, most efficient ... company can compete when Asian governments are literally setting textile prices by illegal currency practices below the cost of U.S. production."
Mr. Johnson said Chinese clothing manufacturers, subsidized by the government, are trying to grab a huge hunk of the American market by running at a loss five of the past six years.
"This needs to be a wake-up call to the U.S. government," Mr. Johnson said.
In July, more than 18,200 American textile and apparel workers lost their jobs - an average of 587 lost jobs a day, including 6,450 jobs lost at one of America's largest textile manufacturers, Pillowtex. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, this one-month job loss figure has been surpassed only once - in July 2001, when 27,900 jobs were lost. If Chinese trade quotas aren't reinstated, the American textile industry will lose 630,000 jobs by 2006, industry officials estimate.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Textile Manufacturers Institute
Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.