Bipartisan Bill Aims to Reverse Harmful Cuts to Cargo Preference


September 2012


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As reported during the July and August membership meetings, the entire industry, along with members of Congress, were blindsided by a last-minute, back-room deal in late June that used the Surface Transportation Bill to repeal longstanding cargo preference laws concerning PL-480 Food Aid cargoes. Among other harmful changes, the mandated U.S.-flag percentage of those cargoes was reduced from 75 percent to 50 percent.


The SIU, other maritime unions and allies throughout the industry have been working nonstop to reverse these unjustifiable, sneaky cuts. One result of these efforts is a recently introduced bill called the Saving Essential American Sailors Act, H.R. 6170. Abbreviated as the SEAS Act, this bill has strong bipartisan support. It was introduced by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.).


The bill would restore the 75-percent mandate and thereby help ensure that American food aid is transported by American workers.


Additional original co-sponsors include Democratic U.S. Representatives Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Rick Larsen of Washington, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Tim Bishop of New York and Republican Representatives Michael Grimm of New York and Candice Miller of Michigan.


Although there is widespread support for the heart of the SEAS Act, quick passage is far from assured, mainly because it is believed that Congress is essentially shutting down for the year. They have less than two weeks scheduled for September and then are out until after Election Day. Nevertheless, this bill is a top priority for the SIU and many others, and the union will continue fighting for its enactment.


After the Surface Transportation Bill passed, Landry said of the reductions to U.S.-flag carriage of food aid cargoes, “This is what happens when Washington rushes bills; we don’t fully debate them or understand their ramifications. Section 100124 will mean that American taxpayers will be paying foreign workers while American mariners sit on the beach. I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join us in fighting for our American workers and quickly pass the SEAS Act.”


Cummings said that when reductions like this one take place, “We risk leaving our economy and indeed our military dependent on foreign-flagged, foreign-owned vessels manned by non-U.S. citizens – a situation that would be intolerable.”



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