WASHINGTON – Giants of the U.S. retail clothing industry called upon two former Maine senators — Democrat George Mitchell and Republican Olympia Snowe — last week to help them develop new standards to improve conditions at factories in Bangladesh.

An “alliance” of apparel sellers that reportedly included The Gap and Walmart requested that the Bipartisan Policy Center convene a meeting of retailers to discuss safety standards in the aftermath of the recent building collapse that killed more than 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh.

The retailers also specifically asked that Mitchell and Snowe — co-founder and senior fellow, respectively, of the nonpartisan Washington think tank — facilitate the first meeting last week in New York. Additional meetings are planned in New York and Washington, the Bipartisan Policy Center said.

Dozens of major retailers across the globe have signed on to a separate pact called the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety” in which retailers agree to conduct independent safety inspections at factories and help pay for necessary upgrades.

But The Gap, Walmart and numerous other U.S.-based retailers have declined to join that pact, opening them up to intense scrutiny from some sectors.

Instead, they plan to propose their own “action plan” to improve working conditions in Bangladesh, which has emerged as one of the world’s leading clothing manufacturing sectors due to low labor costs.

“The alliance is driving to develop a single, unified action plan and schedule for implementation that will achieve effective and long-lasting change for the garment industry and its workers in Bangladesh,” the Bipartisan Policy Center said in a press release. “The alliance intends to release this plan by early July.”

Although the center’s release did not name specific retailers, a report in The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch said The Gap and Walmart were present at the first meeting.

AIRPORT CUTBACKS?

Maine Rep. Mike Michaud led a congressional effort last week to raise concerns about possible impacts at smaller airports — such as those in Portland and Bangor — as federal officials review a possible merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation are currently reviewing the proposed merger under federal antitrust laws. If the companies are allowed to merge, the departments could force the airlines to give up slots from Washington’s Reagan National Airport in order to avoid giving the new mega-airline too much control over flights from the busy airport.

Michaud and Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., led a letter signed by more than 100 other members of Congress expressing concern about the loss of direct flights into their local airports.

“A requirement of the new airline to divest slots at Reagan National would jeopardize existing service to our communities and could preclude any access to new markets,” the letter reads. “Other airlines lack the necessary connectivity out of Reagan National and would be more likely to transfer any divested slots to larger cities and more lucrative routes.”

Of course, many of those members of Congress are likely frequent fliers on those nonstop routes to their home states, too.

EX-BALDACCI AIDE LANDS D.C. JOB

A former member of Gov. John Baldacci’s inner circle has landed a job in Washington with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Laura Fortman, who headed the Maine Department of Labor for seven years during the Baldacci administration, will begin later this month as deputy administrator in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Fortman’s current employer, the Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle, announced the change this past week.

The Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the federal laws regulating minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor and seasonal/migrant workers, among other things.

Fortman has served as executive director of the Frances Perkins Center since 2011. The center’s namesake was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s labor secretary and the first woman to hold a Cabinet position. Although a Massachusetts native, Perkins had deep family roots in Maine’s midcoast and she is buried in the family cemetery in Newcastle.

It’s worth noting that Perkins was personally responsible for the establishment of several of the federal policies handled by the Wage and Hour Division. She helped shepherd legislation that established a minimum wage and set a standard workweek, for example. She is also credited with helping establish Social Security and federal protections for workers who want to organize a union.

Fortman will also be working in a building named for Perkins.

Christopher Breiseth, chairman of the board of directors of the Frances Perkins Center in Maine, said it was fitting that Fortman was leaving the center to take the job in Washington.

“We will be continuing to secure the legacy of Frances Perkins together,” Breiseth said in a statement.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com