As published by Keith Laing in The Hill
Unions move to sink GOP port bills
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD) said Monday that a pair of Republican measures to reduce the potential for strikes at U.S. ports are “unnecessary” interventions into labor relations at the nation’s docks.
The measures, from Sens. Cory Gardiner (R-Colo.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), would expand the ability of governors to intervene in port labor disputes and require greater port tracking by the Department of Transportation, respectively.
The AFL-CIO TTD, which represents more than 30 transportation-related unions, said Monday that the measures are overreaches by Republicans in reaction to a standoff at West Coast ports earlier this year that resulted in a temporary shutdown of nearly 30 ports in February.
“[Sen.] Gardner and his allies claim that this bill is needed to prevent labor-management disputes from interfering with port operations,” the group wrote in a blog post of Colorado senator’s Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act.
“But the fact is that virtually every port contract is settled at the negotiating table without a work stoppage, making it clear that this bill is nothing more than a desire by the corporate lobby to circumvent the collective bargaining process and limit the rights of port employees,” the TTD continued.
Gardner has cast his measure as a a reasonable effort to protect the flow of cargo packages throughout the U.S.
“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 in a statement when the measure was released last month.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Thune has made similar arguments about his measure, which would require greater tracking by the Department of Transportation through its Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
“Every day, our nation’s businesses large and small depend on the efficient operation of U.S. ports,” Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said in a statement in May when his measure was introduced.
“The recent labor dispute at West Coast ports underscored how a lack of data and transparency to quantify on-going problems at our ports can affect businesses from coast to coast,” Thune continued. “At present, statistics for air cargo and even forms of ground transportation are more developed and accessible than those for maritime transport. This legislation adds needed sunshine to maritime shipping through our ports to help head off future economically destructive impediments to commerce.”
The AFL-CIO’s transportation department said Monday that Thune’s is also an unwarranted attack on dockworker unions.
“The bill’s aim is to link all problems related to U.S. seaport productivity to collective bargaining and blame workers for any reduction in port productivity,” the TTD wrote.
“It does not take into consideration other external factors that could lead to losses in efficiency, including the rapid increase in the size of vessels transporting goods, outmoded landside infrastructure, the state of the economy or — God forbid — unsavory conduct by employers,” the blog post continued.