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Plant-Closing Critics Threaten Trade Bill Filibuster

July 8, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Critics of plant-closing legislation sought by labor unions threatened a filibuster Wednesday to stall action on the Senate’s sweeping trade bill.

″We don’t want to vote for a while,″ an aide to Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., Peter Lincoln, told reporters as the tug-of-war over plant-closing provisions dragged into the late afternoon.

Under the measure, employers would have to give advance notice of plant closings or major layoffs.

The stretched-out debate could conceivably take the Senate into Friday in its consideration of a plant-closing compromise being offered by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio. At that time, the critics might hope to get the benefit of absenteeism in a showdown over the issue.

But it was not clear that Quayle would force supporters of the plant- closing provision to wait until Friday for action. As the afternoon wore on, each side took turns in embroidering the issue with oratory.

Critics stopped short of the traditional filibustering ploy of refusing to relinquish the floor. Instead, they appeared to rely on the threat of it to keep the measure from coming to a vote. That left open the possibility of a quick end to their gesture once they had dramatized their point.

The Senate would then vote on the Metzenbaum compromise.

″We’ll see what tomorrow brings,″ Lincoln told reporters outside the Senate chamber.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., earlier urged lawmakers to reject an expected move to drop the plant-closing provision from the 1,013-page trade bill that has been under debate for three weeks.

″A society that wants a flexible, skilled and mobile work force must also have an advance notification provision,″ he said.

While the Senate fought about the plant-closing provisions, leaders of the European Economic Community circulated among Senate offices.

Willy DeClercq, European Community vice president for external relations, told reporters the Common Market delegation sought to impress on lawmakers ″how bad it could be if the legislation coming out of the Congress would be highly protectionist.″

Specifically, DeClercq was critical of a provision in legislation passed by the House April 30 that calls for dollar-for-dollar retaliation against unfair foreign trade practices. The Senate is not expected to adopt that plan, drawn up by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

DeClerq also took aim at proposals calling for retaliation against ″dumping″ of imports in the U.S. market at unfairly slashed prices as well as tariffs aimed at offsetting foreign export subsidies.

Labor unions and local governments have been pushing for a plant-closing provision for the trade bill on grounds that it would smooth the transition when factories close, often after losing out in competition with imports.

The business community has been chilly to the proposal.

Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., spearheading efforts to scuttle the provision, argued that it would ″begin a very intrusive interference into the private sector″ by the federal government ″and take away much of the flexibility that our business has enjoyed as a comparative advantage.″

Japan, Canada and most Western European countries have laws to smooth the transition facing communities when plants close down. But Quayle said businesses in those countries have been seeking repeal of such provisions.

″Europe is now trying to get out of some of the things this Senate is trying to attach to the trade bill,″ Quayle said. ″Call it the European experience.″

Quayle declared himself in favor of notice by companies to employees when plant shutdowns are pending. He focused his criticism on the role the government would play in compelling such warnings.

It was unclear whether there would be a filibuster on the provision.

Debate on the plant-closing provision has been hanging fire for three weeks, and Quayle and Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, chief sponsor of the plant-closing provision, engaged in a bidding war for votes.

Metzenbaum redrafted his provision repeatedly to try to gain support.

The original version fashioned by the Senate Labor Committee would have required warning of plant closings ranging from 90 days to six months. The final revision set the maximum time at 60 days.

Businesses with fewer than 100 employees would be exempted, an upward switch from 50 under the original legislation.

No notice would be required unless a third of the work force would be affected by the layoff. Seasonal and part-time workers could not trigger notice requirements. Nor would notice be required when closings resulted from strikes or lockouts.

The measure was the third of four major controversies that leaders predicted would be fought out on the Senate floor.

In action on the other issues, the Senate on Tuesday night rejected a move to bolster the president’s authority to reject import restraints recommended by the International Trade Commission. Earlier, the lawmakers voted to strike from the bill a plan to take the first step toward an oil import fee.

Still to be resolved is a provision, which has not yet been drafted, that would step up retaliation against unfair foreign trade barriers.

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