2006-07-26 / Front Page

CAFTA is suspect in Jockey job losses

By Deborah Bennett Millen News Editor

Despite assuring local employees just over a year ago that the approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would secure their jobs, Jockey International announced last week that sewing operations at the Millen facility would be permanently terminated. Approximately 203 workers will lose their jobs to overseas counterparts beginning Sept. 18, with all affected positions to be terminated by Nov. 18.

The company's decision to terminate the local sewing operation drew the wrath of 12th District Congressman John Barrow who issued a statement last week slamming Jockey executives for the action.

"It's outrageous to see that after 55 years, Jockey has decided to turn its back on Millen, Jenkins County, and eastern Georgia - leaving 203 hard working families to pick up the pieces. Adding insult to injury, Jockey plans to outsource jobs to Jamaica, Honduras, Costa Rica and El Savador, many of the countries included in the CAFTA," said Cong. Barrow.

The Congressman went on to explain that top executives from Jockey came to his office just last year and lobbied for his approval of CAFTA, which was coming up for a House vote.

"They looked me in the eye, and told me that a vote for CAFTA was a vote to protect jobs in Millen. Now the very same people whose jobs they claimed to be protecting will be out of work," Cong. Barrow said.

"This confirms my worse fears about CAFTA, a bill I voted against, because I was concerned it would send even more American jobs overseas. Now just one year after CAFTA passed, Jockey has decided to sell out Georgia families and ship out 203 good paying jobs to Central America and the Caribbean," he said.

CAFTA is a trade agreement that ended most tariffs and import restrictions between the United States, Costa Rico, El Savador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic when it was approved last year. Jockey has plants in 12 foreign countries, including three of the CAFTA countries.

Ed Emma, Jockey president and chief operating officer, specifically requested an interview with The Millen News in May 2005 to discuss the upcoming Congressional CAFTA vote and the impact of the legislation on the Millen plant.

During the course of the interview Emma said, "The free trade agreements allow this plant to stay here." He went on to explain, "Jockey International currently has two plants operating in Jamaica, one in Honduras and one in Costa Rica. The local plant provides cut parts to these offshore plants dutyfree under the Caribbean Basin Trade Pact (CBTP). These plants then return the finished goods to the U.S., also duty-free. The CBTP expires in 2008 at which time Jockey would begin paying tariffs on its goods exported to the area."

"CAFTA would make the dutyfree trading permanent," said Emma. "This agreement is very important for this plant, Georgia and the U.S."

In a letter to Cong. Barrow last week, however, Mr. Emma wrote, "CAFTA was not a factor in the decision to phase out sewing production at Millen. Millen sewing jobs were dependent on supplying the Canadian market under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The savings under NAFTA no longer justified the high cost of U.S. sewing production and the high cost of running separate productions lines for Canadian and U.S. goods."

In conversations with The Millen News this week, Jim Sinor, Jockey vice-president of manufacturing, commented on Mr. Emma's contradictory statements.

"We were acting on what we knew at that time," he said.

"We felt like CAFTA was the only way to save the plant. Over the years, we have shown confidence in Millen by adding the cutting operations. That was made possible only by the promise of CAFTA."

Since 2005, he indicated, circumstances have changed.

Sinor blamed "the competitiveness in the market place, consolidation within our industry and the rising cost of products and raw materials" for the termination of the local sewing operation, not CAFTA.

When asked if he felt that employees at the local plant had been misled by Mr. Emma's 2005 remarks Mr. Sinor responded, "We obviously would not have made those statements to our employees had we not believed them at the time."

Once touted as the "Savior" of local jobs, CAFTA is now the "prime suspect" in the loss of 203 jobs at the local Jockey International plant.

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