More on the Jones Act

Seafarers Log, August 2010

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Michael Sacco, PresidentAs of this writing, exactly three months have elapsed since the start of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. It’s a tragic story that won’t end even when the spill itself is stopped. Lives and livelihoods have been lost. The aftereffects will continue.

Last month in this space, I pointed out how some media outlets, politicians and think-tanks were trying to use the spill to attack both the Obama administration and U.S. maritime labor by falsely claiming that the Jones Act somehow was impeding cleanup operations. We have another article on page 3 of this edition of the LOG which further sets the record straight. To any members who may have missed this controversy, I urge you to read that article.

Additional coverage is available on our web site and in last month’s LOG.

Relative to BP and the Deepwater Horizon incident, the bottom line is that the Jones Act has been a nonissue, other than in the imaginations of some enemies of American-flag shipping. But it’s important that we don’t lose sight of some crucial facts about this 90-year-old law – a statute that protects U.S. national and economic security.

The most accurate coverage of the Jones Act these past few months has focused on the expedited waiver process that was put in place after the spill, and how the administration repeatedly has stated that the Jones Act hasn’t hindered the response in any way. That coverage also has confirmed the U.S. maritime industry’s united position that we absolutely would not stand in the way of using foreign-flag assistance in the absence of qualified U.S.-flag tonnage. A number of newspapers, web sites, talkshow hosts and pro-maritime legislators pulled back the curtain on Jones Act critics and exposed their attacks as flat-out wrong.

At least one article in a major daily newspaper noted that the anti-Jones Act coverage first got legs by citing an isolated refusal of foreign assistance for the cleanup. What that article pointed out – but what those attacking the Jones Act conveniently omitted – was that the offer to sell assistance was refused not because of any laws, but because it was the wrong type of equipment. It wasn’t usable.

Unfortunately, even the truthful coverage of this issue often has left out some basics of the Jones Act that more Americans should know about. Specifically, the Jones Act generates an estimated 500,000 jobs in this country. Some of those are shipboard billets while others are related shore-side positions. The Jones Act – which stipulates that cargo moving from one domestic port to another must be carried aboard vessels that are crewed, built, flagged and owned American – is responsible for $100 billion in total economic output each year. It provides $29 billion in wages and contributes $11 billion in taxes.

And, as SIU members know, the Jones Act – which historically has enjoyed strong bipartisan support – helps maintain a pool of well-trained, loyal, U.S. citizen seafarers who deliver vital cargo to our troops overseas.

So much has been written and said about the Jones Act these last three months, it may be a record. What our members should know, and what I hope the general public has discovered, is that those behind the campaign against the Jones Act were trying discredit the federal response to the disaster and to attack unions.

In a letter to the editor written in response to an anti-Jones Act editorial published by the Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) summed it up quite well when she wrote, “The law is necessary to prevent our economy from being dominated and controlled by foreign shipping interests. A domestic maritime industry also provides a significant source of employment that is important to maintaining a cadre of well-trained, loyal American merchant mariners ready and able to respond in a time of war or other emergency. A privately owned, U.S.-flagged fleet is vital to our economic, military and international political security.”

That’s a great description of a law most Americans had never heard of, but one which has helped protect our great nation since 1920, no matter what the critics say.

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