When the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO met in convention four years ago, we called upon the U.S. government to invest in the nation’s ports and waterways so America could keep up in the ever-growing economics of global trades.
So where do we stand four years later?
Port modernization, waterways upgrades and dredging still are high priorities that need immediate attention and proper funding.
The expanded Panama Canal is open and operating. Ultra-large containerships capable of handling up to 20,000 boxes are moving goods around the world. And, U.S. – as well as Canadian – ports are struggling to catch up.
From the need to purchase and install cranes designed to handle these huge vessels to dredging ports and harbors to a depth capable of allowing such ships to enter North American seaports, the fight continues to meet the challenges of a changing world.
Fortunately, we have seen some signs of progress. After being ranked as number one in infrastructure by the World Economic Forum in 2005, the United States slipped to 25th in 2013. The latest ranking shows the U.S. rose to 12th in the world (and 10th for port infrastructure with Canada 19th in that same category).
While mega ships have been welcomed at several ports along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, highways and railroads are at maximum capacity, thus hampering the movement of goods to and from the vessels. The decades-old idea of using short-sea shipping to alleviate such congestion remains just that – an idea. Inland water routes continue to depend upon 19th century technology to move 21st century cargo.
One specific example that affects U.S., Canadian and international commerce is the bottleneck located at the Soo Locks, which connects Lake Superior with the lower Great Lakes. The facility has only one lock that can support all the merchant vessels, including the thousand-footers, that sail along those waters. Another lock is capable of moving only the smaller commercial ships. Should either lock be closed during sailing season, the economic repercussions of delayed deliveries of iron ore, coal, salt and other goods could be catastrophic.
In addition, harbors, ports and waterways require constant maintenance via dredging. Years of neglect can cause shipping channels to become shallower, thus forcing vessels to sail lighter or skip ports altogether.
Dredging may seem to be a local issue, but that notion ended in 2015 when the Seafarers Union of Canada reviewed leaked documents from the secretly negotiated Canadian-European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement to expose an effort to allow foreign companies to dredge Canadian waterways. Led by the Canadian Maritime & Supply Chain Coalition – headed by MTD Eastern Area Executive Board Member Jim Given – Canadians discovered other jobs that could go overseas and threw out the federal government that was negotiating the trade pact, which still has not been implemented.
Maritime modernization must be a part of any infrastructure program being considered in the United States and Canada. Our ports, harbors and waterways provide solid working-class jobs and are vital elements of a strong economy. Both nations depend on workers at sea and ashore for the export and import of goods.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the MTD, its affiliates and its Port Maritime Councils pledge to support and publicize any and all efforts to upgrade and modernize the ports, harbors and inland waterways of the United States and Canada for the economic benefit of both nations.
Passed 2017 MTD Convention