SIU President Michael Sacco points to domestic shipbuilding and the Jones Act as vital parts of America's national and economic security -- and important sources of good jobs
Our lead story this month shines a great spotlight on two crucial parts of the American maritime industry that are vital to U.S. national and economic security.
The agreement between Crowley Maritime Corporation and Aker Philadelphia Shipyard to build up to eight new tankers for the Jones Act trade is fantastic on many levels, first and foremost (for us) because it means job security for SIU members well into the future.
But we’ve always taken a wide view of the industry, even while standing up for our own interests, because we know the various components have to work for everyone involved in order for the whole operation to remain viable on the deep seas, Great Lakes and inland waterways. With regard to the newly ordered tankers, shipboard jobs aren’t the only ones being created or maintained. The new vessels mean ongoing work at Aker Philadelphia (a union shipyard) for years to come, and they will help sustain related shore-side jobs, too.
Shipbuilding remains one of the most important industries in America, and it’s also an incredibly ripe source of potential new jobs. Our nation currently operates around 100 yards, many of them union facilities, and they do outstanding work. We’ve seen it for years at Aker, at union-contracted NASSCO in San Diego, at union-contracted Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., and elsewhere. But we’ve also seen our nation lose more than 300 shipyards in the last 60 years – a dangerous direction, putting it mildly.
The industry is still very productive and it can grow. The expected replacement of ships in the domestic trades offers hope for U.S. shipbuilding. Not just shipyards but the country as a whole would also benefit from developing a national maritime policy, led by the Department of Transportation, that includes adequately funding the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program while streamlining the application process.
Another key is maintaining the Jones Act, and electing politicians who will support this critical law. The Jones Act reserves domestic commerce for vessels crewed, built, flagged and owned American. Take it away and you can kiss most if not all of American commercial shipbuilding goodbye. That’s been said more than once not only by shipyard executives but also vessel operators. It was no coincidence that Crowley prominently mentioned the law when announcing its new tanker orders.
The SIU has stood up for the Jones Act throughout all of our 75 years, and at times it feels as if there’s no letup in the attacks from those who want to send our jobs overseas. In fact, we’re currently protecting America’s freight cabotage law in Michigan, where that state’s transportation department has released a plan taking aim at the Jones Act. They describe the law as having “restrictive provisions” that “hinder the development of short-sea shipping or other domestic services.”
As I pointed out in a formal response, the Jones Act generates more than 500,000 jobs and results in an annual economic output of well over $100 billion nationwide. It also helps ensure the United States has a fleet of American-flag ships and well-trained, dependable U.S. Merchant Mariners who can serve the country during times of war and crisis. In this particular instance, I pointed out that thousands of good-paying Michigan jobs on the Lakes, on the docks, in offices and elsewhere are involved in the Jones Act trade.
Aside from the jobs and economic stimulus it provides, the Jones Act also promotes a less-costly mode of transportation. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes shipping saves customers $3.6 billion annually when compared to rail and truck.
As was also pointed out by an ally in this fight, this is domestic commerce. It should create jobs for American workers and opportunities for American companies.
Again, that’s just one of the current battles, but it reflects why we constantly remain on guard and why we mobilize in the halls of Congress and at the state and local levels – and internationally, for that matter – to defend the U.S. Merchant Marine. Our industry is too important to the nation to let it slip any further. Companies like Crowley, shipyards like Aker Philadelphia, and unions like the SIU prove that we can not only survive but flourish for many years to come.