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(02/18/2009) AHFA Members Urge Lawmakers to Respond to Furniture Industry Concerns

By:     Jackie Hirschhaut, 336/881-1016

HIGH POINT, N.C. – Top executives from six American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) member companies joined forces in Washington D.C. last week to urge lawmakers to prioritize policies that will reinvigorate lending and consumer purchases and to steer clear of new regulations that would increase costs or disrupt workplace relations.

Bruce Bradburn, CEO of The Bradburn Company and 2009 chairman of AHFA, led the delegation. He was joined by Ron Wanek, chairman of Ashley Furniture Inds.; Ralph Scozzafava, chairman/CEO of Furniture Brands International; Stefanie Lucas, CEO/president of Rowe Fine Furniture; Kevin Sauder, CEO/president of Sauder Woodworking; Wyatt Bassett, CEO/president of Vaughan-Bassett; Andy Counts, AHFA’s CEO; and Russell Batson, AHFA’s vice president of government affairs.

Keith Koenig, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based City Furniture, and Steve DeHaan, executive vice president of the National Home Furnishings Association, also joined the delegation.

The executives visited the offices of 13 different Congressmen. Top on the group’s agenda was urging Senators and Members of the House to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, better known as the “Card Check Bill.” The bill would eliminate secret ballot voting by employees and instead require employers to recognize a union once a majority of their workers sign cards of support. Under current procedures, employees may cast their votes confidentially, without peer pressure or coercion from unions or employers.

“In addition, this bill would change the role of government arbitrators from interpreting contracts to potentially writing the terms and conditions of contracts that would be binding on all parties for two years,” states Bradburn. “Our objective was to make it clear to lawmakers that we oppose any proposals such as this that would hinder the rights of our employees, our ability to maintain jobs, and our industry’s ability to maintain economic competitiveness.”

Earlier this month, John D. Bassett III, chairman of Vaughan-Bassett, led another AHFA delegation to Washington to discuss certain health care provisions within the Stimulus Bill with senators from North Carolina and Virginia. He was joined by Bradburn, along with Doug Bassett of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture and Jeb Bassett of Bassett Furniture Inds. They urged lawmakers to oppose two costly provisions related to COBRA benefits.

One provision would have required employers to offer COBRA coverage to terminated employees age 55 or older until they reach age 65 or until they obtain another job with comparable insurance. A second provision required the same extended coverage for terminated employees with 10 or more years of service.

“These provisions would place employers in the position of maintaining individuals in the insurance pool who are years removed from employment with the company, driving up insurance costs for current employees as well as for the employer,” Bradburn explains. The two provisions were ultimately removed from the final Stimulus Bill.

Continuing its effort to gain visibility for furniture industry issues, AHFA arranged for more than a dozen North Carolina furniture industry executives to meet with Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) in High Point this week. Once again, the Card Check Bill was among the key issues discussed.

“There is no doubt the new senator is more sensitized to issues in the furniture industry, having had multiple meetings with top executives within the first 30 days of taking office,” Bradburn notes. “With Senator Hagan, as well as with the other lawmakers we visited in February, we have set the stage for additional interaction.”

Bradburn says the lawmakers that AHFA executives visited expressed a desire to support efforts to keep the furniture industry strong. “And they appreciate the fact that our industry has a desire to assist them in developing public policy that is good for America,” he adds.

AHFA will continue its efforts on Capitol Hill May 12-13 when visits with key lawmakers will be part of the agenda for its mid-year Board of Directors meeting in Washington.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance – located in High Point, N.C., and Washington, D.C. – is the largest association of home furnishings companies in the world and represents more than 240 leading furniture manufacturers and distributors, as well as nearly 200 suppliers to the furniture industry worldwide.



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