Like other mature industries, the needle trades (sewn products) has been severely affected by foreign imports, antiquated and inefficient plants and equipment, and a poor image. The federal, state, and local governments were not addressing these issues with a strategic plan but through a piecemeal process, company by company.
In the past five years, there has been a steady decline of jobs in the industry. Aside from a loss of 3,000 jobs, there has been an upswing in underemployed workers. Workers are being asked to work fewer hours per week, fewer weeks per year. Workers still have the opportunity to earn as much as $12 per hour but are faced with the possibility of only working 26 weeks per year. The Needle Trades Action Project’s (NTAP) long-term goal is to prepare the industry for a smaller and more flexible workforce working 35-40 hours a week, 50 weeks per year.
NTAP is an industrial development program in southeastern Massachusetts whose purpose is to represent the needle trades industry and workers in coordinating their efforts to meet their development and employment needs. NTAP is an empowerment process for a community affected by loss of jobs in a mature industry and is a vehicle controlled by labor and management to effect institutional change in the community as well as implement a cooperative program for the industry.
The scope and nature of NTAP is to design and implement strategies to draw upon or develop the skills of management, labor and community leaders to stabilize and strengthen needle trades production and employment. NTAP has implemented strategies in the areas of marketing, management and worker training, engineering, industry financing, and childcare.
NTAP directly serves 87 companies with 15,000 workers in the cities of Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1985, apparel and sewn products provided 46 percent of the manufacturing employment in Fall River and 32 percent in New Bedford. The combined cities aggregate wages were 178 million dollars. These wages comprise the largest percentage (20 percent) of the private sector payroll in the region. The project is a model for state and national policies in a mature industry in designing their own strategic plans.