Rep. Robin Hayes, the republican that was against free trade with Central America before he was for it, is now proposing regulating the federal government's relationship with its suppliers. The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Hayes wants to require federal agencies to buy uniforms and other supplies from domestic manufacturers in an effort to subsidize the lagging U.S. textile industry.
Hayes said he would push for laws requiring agencies such as the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Border Patrol to buy clothing and other equipment from U.S. companies.
Such a move would expand the Berry Amendment, a law that requires the U.S. military to buy from domestic suppliers, he said.
Hayes' proposal comes after it was revealed late last month that U.S. Border Patrol uniforms are made in Mexico.
"We can't have national security without economic security," Hayes said.
Democratic candidate Larry Kissell, an educator and former textile worker challenging Hayes in 2006, characterized Hayes' approach to 'economic security' as trying to aim a bullet that's already left the gun.
"Ready, fire, aim!" said Kissell of Hayes' remarks.
"Afterthoughts are what we get time and again from our current representative. It's just damage control from a Congress that's done most of the damage themselves from CAFTA to an $8 trillion deficit with no regard for the impact on working people."
"Expecting our federal agencies to support domestic manufacturing is common sense, but what we should be asking ourselves is what drove us to this point in trade disparity in the first place? It's a shame Rep. Hayes didn't support domestic textile manufacturing jobs when he had the chance on CAFTA, but this is too little, too late."
Four-term representative Hayes was criticized by some advocates of the U.S. textile industry for changing his vote to approve CAFTA after assuring North Carolina workers he was "flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed" to it.
Hayes most recent comments came as he toured a Tuscarora Yarns Inc. plant in Oakboro just days after CAFTA was blamed for layoffs at George C. Moore Company, an Edenton manufacturing plant moving its facilities to Central America next year.
In contrast, executives at the Mt. Pleasant based yarn facility owned by CAFTA-advocate and Hayes contributor Martin Foil, praised Hayes' CAFTA vote during his visit since so much of their product is shipped overseas for use in the kind of finished goods manufacturing once done domestically.
Tuscarora executive Peter Hegarty said "We export 40-50 percent of the Oakboro plant's production to countries within CAFTA."
Also in attendance, Michael Hubbard, vice president of the NCTO (National Council of Textile Organizations), stated that countries in Central America are the ones now buying yarns.
"Yarn sales to Central America have grown over 1,000 percent the last five years with Honduras as the biggest buyer," said Hubbard.
"No kidding," said Larry Kissell in response to the staged press event.
"Nearly 400,000 U.S. textile workers have lost their jobs since 2001, but isn't it nice to hear Honduras is doing so well? Where else would the materials for finishing go now but where the manufacturing jobs went along with our livelihoods? That yarn very well could be going on machines that used to be right here in Star, NC at Renfo [Kissell's former employer]. We lost 800 jobs in Montgomery County when Renfo packed up and shipped its knitting machines to Honduras. Don't think yarn isn't next."
Hayes, himself a Mt. Pleasant mill owner, acknowledged that mill owners such as Foil had pressured him to vote for CAFTA in spite of his earlier promises to North Carolina's textile workers.
"Peter (Hegarty) and Martin (Foil, Tuscarora Mills owner) were in the pro-CAFTA camp and were consistently asking me to vote for it," Hayes said of CAFTA.