Jones Act: Setting the Record Straight

July 2010

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Sacco SIU PresidentThere were times in June when I almost had to check my calendar to make sure we weren’t back in the mid-1990s. During that era, well-financed, calculated opposition to American-flag shipping repeatedly attacked the Jones Act, one of the staples of our industry for the last 90 years.

As SIU members know, the Jones Act requires that vessels operating between domestic ports be crewed, built, owned and flagged American. Most if not all other major maritime nations have laws that basically require the same thing.

Orchestrated or not, attacks on the Jones Act recently resumed in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, with various publications, politicians and think-tanks firing off accusations ranging from the confusing to the insulting. The most ridiculous of those claims involved a supposed refusal by the administration to waive the Jones Act and a supposed corresponding request (which never happened) from unions not to waive it.

Let me cut right to the bottom line: It is offensive for anyone to suggest that American maritime labor would hinder cleanup operations in the Gulf, in any way, shape or form. Our industry has been clear from the start of this disaster – which, by the way, involved a non-union operation under the flag of the Marshall Islands. Speaking with one voice, U.S. maritime labor and management have said that we wouldn’t try to stand in the way of using foreign-flag assistance if no qualified, viable American-flag tonnage was available. That’s simple common sense, and shame on all those who try to distort our position.

And what troubles me even more is that those attacking the Jones Act and the U.S.-flag maritime unions do not have the relationship with the water that we do. Many of our members and their families depend on the Gulf, its bayous and its estuaries for their livelihood and recreation. We are hurting because they are hurting. For anyone to say we don’t care simply shows how ignorant of the situation they truly are.

We have plenty of supporters, too, and there have been media outlets that reported the truth. But again, the attacks aren’t anything new, nor are the methods. Enemies of American-flag shipping toss out half-truths and accusations designed to bring out emotion. They use words like “protectionist” to describe a law that benefits our nation’s economic and national security.

What’s their real agenda? I agree with U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, who stated that recent attacks on the law smack more of “pushing a political agenda than any genuine interest in helping Gulf Coast communities with their clean-up.”

Meanwhile, SIU crews and other American mariners continue assisting with the Deepwater Horizon cleanup, as do a number of foreign-flag ships that have been on the scene almost from the beginning.

As for the Jones Act, our industry came together in the mid-1990s like never before to set the record straight. Our efforts worked, because the truth is that the Jones Act is a sound, proven, vital regulation that benefits America. Now, we’re in the process of resuming an educational effort to reinforce those facts. As we did in the past, we’ll succeed this time, too.

Thanking Seafarers
On another topic, I want to thank the rank-and-file membership for authorizing action on the Horizon Lines contract. Just like always, you did the right thing and you showed your true colors. I am proud to represent you, and I appreciate your ongoing support.


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