Blog: Leonie BarrieFighting fit?

Leonie Barrie | 16 March 2006

Something doesn’t seem quite right, or perhaps it’s just the timing that’s an issue. On the one hand we have US textile makers supporting new plans to extend ‘Buy American’ legislation to other government agencies, while on the other, the Unite Here union is slamming poor working conditions in some of the very same domestic factories that already make uniforms for the armed forces.

It certainly makes sense for the US government to procure locally-made products; after all, it’s a vote of confidence in the country’s industry and an important measure of national pride for those who have to use the equipment. Of course there are safety and security issues at stake too, with potential for sabotage if the products fall into the wrong hands. And economic arguments would suggest that it’s only fair for US companies, who pay taxes to the US government, to get a chance to win its supply contracts.

But maybe it’s the very process of awarding contracts to the lowest bidders that contributes to poor conditions in the industry, which employs 20,000 men and women. This practice encourages companies to cut corners at the expense of workers. The reputable contractors who provide benefits, safe working conditions, and better wages are routinely underbid by this competition. Yet ironically, they’re the ones who should benefit most from these changes in legislation.


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