Patching things up

Week of February 5, 2001

With ITMA ’03 concerns quelled,
knitting group plans to attend

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND — After announcing last August that they would blow off the next International Textile Machinery Exhibition-International (ITMA), in 2003, a group of circular knitting machinery manufacturers have changed their minds, according to show organizers.

The announcement was made by officials at The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) venue, where ITMA will be staged for the first time, and CEMATEX, the pan-European machinery body that stages the quadrennial ITMAs.

Last year, the knitting group said it would skip the show and instead participate in a new exhibition for the knitting field at Milano Fair in Italy in 2003. At the time, the knitters’ alliance said in a statement, “This decision has been taken considering the requirements of the market, the inadequacy of ITMA as a knitting exhibition and, last but not least, the place chosen for the next exhibition: Birmingham.”

ITMA 2003 will take place at The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England. Last week, show organizers announced that a group of circular knitting machinery manufacturers had changed their minds about skipping the event.

Earlier this month, ITMA 2003 organizers announced that the show would be reduced from its traditional 10 days to eight days, which organizers didn’t say was a factor in the decision of the knitters’ group. Planners, in their statement last week, reported that, “their decision underlines the appeal of ITMA as the world’s premier textile machinery exhibition for all sectors of the textile industry.”

Said Maria Avery, exhibition director of the ITMA 2003 organizing committee at The NEC: “Representatives of several leading knitting machinery companies have visited The NEC recently and have been impressed both with the facilities and the cost-effectiveness of the overall package we can offer.

“We are pleased that this has corrected some of the unfair and unfounded criticism that has been stirred up in some quarters and we are delighted to welcome circular knitting machine producers as an important exhibit group.”

Officials with The NEC and CEMATEX said that they are confident that the switch to the more compact, eight-day format, will be a winner. This decision, which will apply to future ITMAs, recognizes the changing business environment and the influence of the Internet and e-mail, they added.

STN Headliners

Week of February 5, 2001

In this week's edition:

Sara Lee to cut 7,000 worldwide

CHICAGO — In continued streamlining, Sara Lee Corp. announced January 24 that it plans to cut 7,000 jobs worldwide, a large number of them in its intimates and underwear segment.

The diversified company said it would divest eight units, including Champion Europe, Sara Lee Apparel Australasia and several international bakery operations.

The layoffs will come mainly from the company’s two biggest operations — intimates and underwear, along with food, according to reports.

The job cuts, which represent about 4.5 percent of its 154,000 employee work force, will occur over the next year, Sara Lee said.

Since Sara Lee first announced its reshaping program last May, it has made plans to divest 14 companies, representing more than $4.5 billion in revenue.

“With these divestitures, Sara Lee continues to make considerable progress in reshaping our business portfolio and strengthening our leadership position as a global branded consumer packaged goods company,” said C. Steven McMillan, president and CEO.

In addition to these divestitures, Sara Lee said it expects to divest its remaining 81 percent position in the premium accessories company, Coach, Inc. via an exchange offer. The company added that it anticipates the exchange offer would be completed by the end of April.

Ergonomics standard grabs much attention

By Alfred Dockery

GREENSBORO, NC — Ergonomics, union activity and safety were key topics at The Hosiery Association’s (THA) 2001 Human Resources/Safety Symposium here this month.

The new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ergonomics standard gathered tremendous interest from symposium attendees. The standard is controversial. Opponents charge that it is vague, self-contradictory in places and will hurt U.S. manufacturers’ ability to compete. The scientific studies on which the standard is based have also been questioned. One thing is clear, though: employers must begin working to comply.

“It’s here and I don’t believe that it is going to go away ,” said Anita R. Goehringer, director, NC Ergonomics Resource Center. “There is a lot of politics on the table. There are plenty of lawsuits about the standard, but it is in effect. It went into effect on Jan. 16, 2001 and the compliance date is Oct. 14, 2001. So, basically, you have 10 months to get everything together to start complying.”

OSHA says that the new standard will prevent 300,000 injuries, save $9 billion annually in workers’ compensation and other direct costs, and cost employers $4.2 billion each year. All of these figures have been disputed by various groups. The goal of the ergonomics standard is to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Examples of MSDs include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and back injuries.

The standard includes a grandfather clause for employers who had a written ergonomics program in place before Nov. 14, 2000. It is a reactive standard in that most of its provisions don’t come into effect until a work-related injury occurs. Once an MSD — or signs or symptoms of an MSD — is detected, companies have an option of providing a “quick fix” or developing an ergonomics program for that job.

If two or more MSDs happen on the same job or in the same facility, the company must launch an ergonomics program for that job and related jobs.

“If you have any MSDs at all reported, it is going to be easier for you to put in a (ergonomics) program throughout your facility,” Goehringer said.

Martin Color-Fi, Clariant ink deal

EDGEFIELD, SC — Martin Color-Fi, Inc. (MCF) announced that it has been granted exclusive rights by the Clariant Corporation to use Clariant’s new Nylostab S-EED® additive in the manufacture and sale of polyester fiber for automotive applications.

MCF, which last year emerged from Chapter 11, is one of the leading producers of polyester for use in the automotive industry and the agreement specifically covers this market segment in the United States, Mexico and Canada. This unique fiber, introduced by MCF as ColorGuard™, is stabilized against the long-term effects of ultraviolet light and heat and provides an improved color appearance, the manufacturer said.

Swift Spinning to close plant

COLUMBUS, GA — Swift Spinning Mills, Inc. is closing its Tifton, GA, operation, eliminating about 110 jobs, the company announced last week.

The closing of Swift Spinning-Tifton, Inc. is effective March 29, with the exception of certain employees who will continue to work for about a week, the company said.

The decision was made due to consolidation of operating units at Swift Spinning’s operations here, the firm said in a statement.

Swift Spinning-Tifton produces about 115,000 pounds per week of 100 percent combed cotton, with an average yarn count of 32/1.

Spray Cotton to shut 105-year-old facility

EDEN, NC — Spray Cotton Mills, which tried to stop the financial bleeding with two layoffs totaling 70 jobs in recent months, is closing its 105-year-old yarn production plant here.

The shutdown will leave the plant’s remaining 144 people out of work.

Spray officials, who did not return phone calls from STN, blamed earlier layoffs on lower demand for U.S.-made yarn as a result of yarn imports.

The company still operates a plant with about 150 employees in Mount Holly, NC, but has not indicated whether that facility will remain open.

WestPoint shutting SC sheeting plant

WEST POINT, GA — WestPoint Stevens plans to close its Seneca, SC, plant, a sheeting plant that dates back to 1898, as part of its Eight-Point Restructuring Program, the firm announced Monday.

About 468 people will lose their jobs as a result, although a limited number will move to nearby company plants, WPS said in a statement. The closing is expected to occur at the end of March.

The following day, the company announced that sales and earnings for the fourth quarter would fall below prior company guidance. Fourth-quarter sales will fall in the $418 million range, down 14 percent from year-ago levels, below the company’s original expectations of a 3-5 percent sales decline, WestPoint said.

Soft retail demand, significant inventory reduction by selected large retailers and the disruptive effect of the tornado that damaged the Abbeville, AL, Distribution Center all contributed to the shortfall, the firm added.

Earnings per share, before restructuring charges, should be about 11 cents, below prior guidance of 30 cents due to the sales shortfall and additional downtime taken to reduce inventories, which ended the year at $407 million, WestPoint said.

In connection with the closing, the company will take an additional $27 million, pretax restructuring charge in the fourth quarter of 2000 and the first half of 2001, bringing the total restructuring charges associated with the restructuring to $222 million pretax, of which $168 million are non-cash charges. Anticipated annual cost savings, once fully implemented in 2002, will be $38 million, WPS said.


Week of February 5, 2001

Industry ‘evolution’ leaving trail of losers

ONE OF THE MORE memorable commercials during this year’s Super Bowl came from E-Trade, an on-line investment company, and showed a chimpanzee riding horseback through a ghost town of defunct e-commerce companies. Grimly surveying the ruins, the chimp forms a tear as he somewhat mockingly mourns the loss of his dot-com brethren. The ad, which lampoons the 1973 anti-pollution Ad Council spot featuring Iron Eyes Cody, invokes the demise of many of the dot-commers. E-Trade and only three other on-line firms out of 17 that advertised during last year’s Super Bowl returned to this year’s lineup. Funny stuff, this ad.

We point out the commercial only because it reminds us, in a lot of ways, of the "ghost towns" being created in the textile and apparel industry. Only we can’t laugh when we think about the disintegration that’s occurring in the trade from which we — and that of thousands of others — derive our livelihood.

If we were to put together a commercial illustrating this tragedy, one that parodies the E-Trade parody, we’d first pick the likeness of someone who helped make this industry what it was during its heyday — a J.W. Cannon, a Spencer Love, a Roger Milliken, an Elliott Springs or an R.E. Hightower. We would then get footage of him riding through some once-bustling-with-textile-manufacturing town or community, such as Eden, NC, Roanoke Rapids, NC, or Bibb City, GA.

And we wouldn’t have to force him to tear up.

THE DEVASTATION and abandonment of this industry is continuing, of course. Just in the last week, we learned of the closing of three more plants — two of them more than a century old — and the layoff of hundreds more textile and apparel employees. First, WestPoint announced it is closing a sheet-manufacturing plant that employs 468 people in Seneca, SC. Then, Spray Cotton Mills informed 150 employees at its 105-year-old yarn production plant in Eden, NC, that it is shutting its doors. And lastly, Swift Spinning Mills said it is eliminating about 110 jobs in the shutdown of its yarn-spinning facility in Tifton, GA.

It’s worth noting that Spray’s plant was the last still operating of six textile mills built a century ago along the Smith River. Such news should make for a pretty bad day for Rockingham County and industry historians.

And we didn’t even mention Sara Lee, which is yet to spell out all the details of its plans to eliminate 7,000 jobs, mostly in its intimates and underwear segment.

These kinds of decisions certainly must deeply affect the management of some of these companies. They’ve likely come to know and appreciate the talents of the people who have kept these plants running and made their companies successful for years. And breaking news of this sort to employees is probably the most difficult task they’ll ever do in their professional lives. But, ultimately, these leaders have no choice but to make the tough decision when push comes to shove.

The real losers, of course, are those who have toiled in the plants. Those who have given their working lives to a company, some for 20, 30, 40 years of more. Those who must start from scratch, without a clue about how to create a resume. Those who will never reach their present income level again, regardless of where they go. Those who will end up dipping into their retirement fund to make ends meet. Those who remember the good ol’ days of this industry.

WHEN WILL the bleeding stop? Sadly, no time soon, we don’t think. This industry, and manufacturing in general, is giving way to high-tech or service jobs. The government seems ambivalent to the plight of textiles and apparel, as imports continue to decimate the industry, one T-shirt or fabric roll at a time. The industry is taking measures of its own to protect itself, but can do only so much.

Oh, and in the commercial we produce? Those tumbleweeds will be made of yarn.