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Washington Outlook Archive
James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Supreme Court Narrows Disability Act Coverage

Washinigton Outlook

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

W hile a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in a repetitive motion case narrows the scope of the Americans with Disability Act’s (ADA) coverage, textile industry safety officials and labor lawyers believe the act still leaves the door open to a range of claims.

On January 8, the court ruled that conditions preventing a worker from performing a specific job are not necessarily legal disabilities as defined by the act. The unanimous ruling authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said: “To be substantially limited in performing manual tasks, an individual must have an impairment that prevents activities that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives. The impairment’s impact must also be permanent and long-term.”

Some of the problems associated with the ADA have been the questions of what injuries are clearly job-related and when they are severe enough to be defined as disabling. Both labor and management officials agreed that the ruling narrows the scope of coverage and will make it more difficult for workers to show they are entitled to accommodations under the ADA.

Cambodian Textile Agreement Extended
The United States and Cambodia have agreed to a three-year extension of their textile and apparel trade agreement, but the agreement doesn’t seem to satisfy U.S. manufacturers, organized labor or importers.The sticking points are the size of the quotas and the fact that the agreement includes provisions granting Cambodia a bonus if it improves worker rights and working conditions.

Charles V. Bremer, international trade director for the Washington-based ATMI, says the agreement is overly generous for a country that does not qualify for membership in the WTO. Bremer said the combination of a quota increase of 15 percent, along with a worker-rights bonus could result in as much as a 33-percent increase in Cambodian imports this year.

The U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel (USITA), New York, does not like the worker-rights provision because there are no measurable criteria or guidelines governing when a bonus should kick in. This makes trade with Cambodia unpredictable, something that importers don’t like.

ATMI Makes Major Cuts In Staff
Reflecting the adverse business conditions in the United States textile industry, ATMI has announced a major downsizing that will result in the elimination of a number of key senior staff positions. ATMI President Charles A. Hayes said that over the next 60 days, the positions of director of government relations (chief lobbyist), one assistant director of government relations, chief economist, and director of membership and administrative services will be eliminated.

ATMI President Charles A. Hayes

Executive Vice President Carlos Moore will go on half-time status until a new executive vice president is hired. He will focus on international trade and cotton issues.

While some industry observers believe the move could seriously weaken the industry's ability to lobby Congress and the administration, Moore said the industry’s lobbying strength comes from itsmembers and its textile state supporters in Congress. He said the industry has succeeded in getting strong commitments from Congress and the administration to address critical international trade and economic issues. “Much of the hard work is done,” he said.

“Those commitments are in place, and our staff, our members and our supporters in Congress are committed to following through and getting them implemented." Beyond that, Moore said, ATMI will continue to have the services of Boyden Gray, a former White House chief of staff, who has been successfully lobbying the administration.

Importers Don't See Surge From China And Taiwan
Although U.S. quotas on a variety of textile and apparel imports from China and Taiwan were removed in January, importers do not expect any surge in exports from those countries in the near future. A much larger surge is expected in January 2005, when all quotas are due to be removed.

When China and Taiwan were admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on January 1, they were allowed to catch up with the gradual phase-out of quotas that had been underway for other WTO members since 1994. U.S. textile manufacturers were strongly opposed to granting the “catch-up” to China, which had been under a fairly restrictive bilateral quota agreement, but since WTO rules state that all members must be treated equally, they were permitted to come in under the third phase of the 10-year phase-out.

While China is a major manufacturer of many products that now are quota-free — including silk, linen and ramie, coats, jackets, dresses and trousers — importers question whether there are markets in this country for those products that could result in major increases in imports. In addition, the U.S. recession led to a decline in apparel sales at the retail level. As a result, there was no growth in apparel imports last year, and textile imports actually declined by about 3 percent.

Taiwan could become more of a factor in the import markets for knit fabrics, luggage, table linens, yarns and blankets.The gradual quota phase-out was designed to cushion the U.S. industry from any major impact on high-volume products, so big hits are not expected to come when all quotas are removed in 2005. The American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) estimates that China accounts for about 9 percent of the import market today, but that share could grow to 31 percent in a quota-free world.

February 2002