It didn’t take long for U.S. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) to remind the audience at Houston’s Maritime Trades Department gathering why he is such a close ally to the maritime industry. He made his views known right from the start in a Feb. 14 address.
“I have forever supported the Jones Act,” Green said of the maritime law that ensures all cargo traveling between U.S. ports moves on American-built, American-flagged vessels with American crews and owners. The law serves as part of the backbone of the U.S. Merchant Marine and generates more than $100 billion in annual economic output and more than 500,000 American jobs.
“We don't need one dent in those 500,000 jobs,” Green told the audience. “In fact, we need more of them.”
Despite these benefits, the Jones Act has been repeatedly attacked in Washington. Since his election to Congress more than 20 years ago, Green has remained a champion and advocate for the maritime industry and laws like the Jones Act.
“Over the years we’ve had some challenges (with attacks on the Jones Act),” Green said. “The Jones Act probably has the most challenges I’ve seen since I’ve been in Congress.”
Green also brought up the fight for the nation’s Food for Peace program. The 60-year program, which was recently renewed, ships food to starving people around the world and has been one of the country’s most successful foreign policy initiatives.
The food is grown on American farms, shipped on American vessels and bears a stamp that lets those who receive it know where it comes from. This policy results in more than 44,000 American jobs, helps maintain a fleet of U.S.-flag vessels and improves America’s standing in the world. It also helps maintain a pool of American mariners who are available to crew military support ships.
“I cannot count the hundreds of millions of people our country has fed over the last 60 years,” Green said. “And when you see those bags with ‘Product of the USA’ on it, you know where they come from and the folks know where they came from.”
Lately, however, a movement has been underway to reduce the program into a cash giveaway that would send money instead of food. Green has been among the critics of that approach and argued that enacting such a policy would not only cost Americans their jobs, but would also lessen the chance that starving people get the food they so desperately need.
“I want to make sure the [food is] on U.S.-flag ships. I also want those products to come from our farmers to make sure we have that market,” Green said, adding that the program also plays a vital role in maintaining the U.S.-flag fleet for times of war or emergency.
“If we didn't have those U.S.-flag ships then they wouldn't be available when we really need them,” Green said. “I know a lot of seafarers served taking cargo to Iraq and taking cargo all over the world to help our military.”
Speaking more locally, Green touted the importance of the maritime industry and labor movement in his home state of Texas. He added that his district, which covers the eastern portion of Houston, is among the friendliest labor regions in the state.
“I probably have the most unionized district in Texas,” Green said. “The Houston area is very friendly to labor.”
Like many of the other speakers, Green highlighted the success of the Port of Houston and the recent addition of union representatives – including SIU Gulf Coast Vice President Dean Corgey – to the Houston Port Commission.
“We are a seafaring community here,” Green said. “And we would not have the success in the Houston area without the Port of Houston.”
Houston Port Commission Chairman Janiece Longoria, who also spoke at the MTD event, said much of the port's success had to do with the area’s congressional delegation. She specifically pointed to Green as someone who helped secure funding and promote policies that allowed the Port of Houston to thrive.
“He's been very effective for the Port of Houston in helping us with federal support of our infrastructure, security needs, etc.,” Longoria said.
And judging by the port’s impact on the local economy, Green said such work was very rewarding.
“This is probably the best economy here that I remember,” he said.