The MTD, its affiliates and Port Councils continue to promote facts and figures showing the value of the Jones Act (the nation’s freight cabotage law) despite new efforts being waged by its opponents.
The latest flare-up is happening in Puerto Rico as anti-U.S.-flag elements are attempting to connect the law to that commonwealth’s economic crisis. Opponents of the Jones Act are trying to persuade Puerto Ricans that the so-called higher prices being paid on the island are a direct result of cost of goods being transported aboard U.S.-flag vessels. The Jones Act foes even had a study commissioned by the commonwealth’s government to look into a cost differential.
Setting the record straight through a September 4 forum and rally was a coalition of U.S.-flag maritime companies and unions. Among the speakers were MTD Executive Board Member Augie Tellez of the Seafarers and officials from the Longshoremen, MEBA, and Masters Mates & Pilots.
Forum orators pointed out thousands of workers in Puerto Rico benefit from jobs provided by the Jones Act. They noted that U.S.-flag carriers have dedicated routes to the commonwealth that allow regular deliveries in days rather than weeks as happens with foreign-flag vessels that can sail from island-to-island and nation-to-nation in the Caribbean.
In addition, the U.S.-flag service between the mainland and Puerto Rico promotes national security through trained American mariners, including Puerto Ricans, being available aboard domestically built vessels in times of crisis or emergencies.
Forum participants and others have refuted many of the claims issued by the study, known as the Krueger Report. In a recent letter to members of Congress, MTD President Michael Sacco stated, “The Krueger Report did not rely on the critical ingredient that was used heavily in a 2013 independent review of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – facts.”
The GAO study said there were far too many factors – such as energy, taxes, trucking, warehousing, rent and more – to identify any specific cost created by the Jones Act, as the Krueger Report tried to claim. Also, the GAO pointed out that should the commonwealth be exempted from the cabotage law “foreign carriers that currently serve Puerto Rico as part of multiple-stop trade route would likely continue this model to accommodate other shipping routes to and from other Caribbean destinations or world markets rather than provide dedicated service between the United States and Puerto Rico, as the current Jones Act carriers provide.”
At the same time, U.S.-flag carriers launched an ad campaign and website to refute the Krueger Report while providing facts at dedicatedtopuertorico.org
But the United States is not the only nation whose cabotage laws are under attack. Just north of the border, Canadian unions and Port Councils are calling out that nation’s border control agencies for issuing work permits for foreign mariners to sail vessels within Canadian domestic waters while Canadian mariners remain ashore looking for work.
The SIU of Canada has filed suit to stop this practice. Its president, and MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member, Jim Given, declared, “The Government of Canada is willfully ignoring the law and giving up on qualified, ready-to-work Canadian workers. We cannot sit by and watch while foreign workers are being given work permits and are paid as little as $2 an hour.”
Given noted Canadian law requires ships carrying passengers or goods between Canadian ports may only use foreign workers if no qualified Canadian workers are available. He added that 2,100 jobs have been taken away from ready-and-available Canadian workers since 2013 because of the practices of the Canadian government.
“The government of Canada is letting foreign ships replace thousands of qualified Canadian workers at a time when 25 percent of our workforce is unemployed,” Given told Canadian reporters.
The suit comes after Given and other Canadian maritime, transportation and government-employee unions created the Canadian Maritime and Supply Chain Coalition last year to stop the proposed Canadian-European Union Economic Trade Agreement (also known as CETA). The coalition, of which the MTD is a founding affiliate, disclosed that CETA contained provisions that would eliminate Canada’s cabotage laws which would cause half of that nation’s mariners to lose their jobs. CETA is still being debated with no action expected prior to Canada’s federal elections next month.
But the fight to maintain cabotage isn’t just in the Americas.
Down under, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is battling its prime minister who unveiled plans in early summer to open domestic shipping to foreign operators with foreign mariners by dismantling the 2012 Coastal Trading Act.
Research conducted by the Australia Institute reports that should the effort succeed, nearly 93 percent of Australia’s merchant mariners would lose their jobs.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin (who also serves as president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation) proclaimed, “This is more clear evidence that the Abbott government is not acting in the best interests of Australian workers. It is a national disgrace that the Abbott government wants to trash yet another Australian industry due to its ongoing ideological crusade.”