Legislation would discourage disruptions at U.S. seaports

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. legislation was introduced on June 5 that would discourage disruptions at U.S. seaports and incentivize speedy resolution of disputes.

The Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

The legislation would give state governors Taft-Hartley powers which are currently reserved for the president, including the ability to convene a board of inquiry and start the Taft-Hartley process whenever a port labor dispute is causing economic harm.

Once that board reports, governors could petition federal courts to enjoin slowdowns, strikes, or lockouts at ports in their states. The PORTS Act would explicitly include slowdowns as a trigger for Taft-Hartley powers.

By enacting Taft-Hartley, lawmakers established a process by which the president can petition federal courts to end labor disputes because of a strike, lockout, or threat of either. But when the president refuses to act, the affected businesses, employees, and consumers have few options. This legislation will revitalize Taft-Hartley, restoring critical protections for the U.S. economy, Gardner said.

A nine-month labor dispute at the U.S. West Coast ports in late 2014 and early 2015 is estimated to have cost importers, exporters, retailers and cargo movers billions of dollars. Labor officials from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Pacific Maritime Association, the body that represents employers of the 29 U.S. West Coast ports, agreed to a tentative five-year deal in February.

“This year’s slowdown at West Coast ports demonstrated the disastrous consequences that labor disputes at our ports can have on businesses, consumers, and the entire economy,” Gardner said. “Labor union bosses should not be allowed to hold the economy hostage, nor should they be allowed to use the livelihoods and jobs of millions of Americans as bargaining chips. This act would empower local leaders, who are most affected by these port disruptions, to apply pressure to their state governments to bring these damaging disputes to an end.”

“A labor dispute at one of our ports can cause significant damage to U.S. employers and to our economy – the recent nine-month dispute at the West Coast ports made it difficult for auto manufacturers and suppliers in Tennessee to keep production lines running,” Alexander said. “This legislation will empower state governors to take steps to resolve port labor disputes and avoid economic disaster if the president is unwilling to act.”

The PORTS Act is supported by the National Retail Federation, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, along with dozens of other organizations.

Labor disputes at the ports clog up these vital arteries and lead to delays, higher costs, and lost business for industries throughout the country, Gardner said.

Agriculture exports (apples, hay, Christmas trees, etc.) lost export opportunities and overseas customers/markets, because they couldn’t get products to market.  Meat and poultry companies lost sales and faced port charges in excess of $30 million per week during the recent nine-month dispute.

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