Jones Act Vital for America


January 2015


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SIU President Michael Sacco says there’s no doubting the tremendous value of the nation’s freight cabotage law.

A critical regulation was back in the news last month when Senator John McCain, long an opponent of America’s freight cabotage law, vowed to push for repeal of the Jones Act – the single most important statute for our nation’s domestic maritime industry.


Although he has backed another key U.S.-flag initiative – the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which helps keep 60 ships available to support our military – McCain has been after the Jones Act for many years, so his latest statement was a dog-bites-man story.


Still, it was good to read and hear about many of the reactions from our members who sail in the domestic trades and from others in the industry that were offended by such an open attack on their jobs.

Anyone who cares about the U.S. Merchant Marine has every reason to be upset about attacks on the Jones Act, no matter where those attacks come from. And we’ve also got every reason to stay involved in the ongoing fight to protect it, whether that’s through our union’s voluntary political action fund (SPAD), contacting your senators and congressional representatives, or other grassroots activities.

If you’re new to the industry, you should know that the Jones Act helps maintain nearly a half-million American jobs, many of them seagoing positions in the SIU-crewed fleet. It requires cargo moving between domestic ports to be carried aboard vessels that are crewed, flagged, owned and built American. Detailed, impartial studies have shown the law unquestionably boosts U.S. national and economic security. It pumps billions of dollars into our economy. It enjoys strong bipartisan support and strong support from our military, and it has been in effect since 1920.

But it also regularly comes under attack, and it makes no difference whether those attacks are based on false beliefs or on blatant efforts to sink the American-flag fleet and replace it with foreign-flag ships, tugs, barges and ferries. Either way, it’s a threat to the SIU, it’s a threat to the whole U.S. Merchant Marine, and it’s a threat to this country.

Can you imagine our inland waterways and Great Lakes being overrun with foreign-flag, foreign-crewed boats and barges? The security risks would be so high, they couldn’t even be calculated. This was the way things were in the 1800s. Foreign-flag vessels didn’t have to meet American requirements. Boiler explosions and huge loss of lives, as well as cargo damage, regularly happened until the current version of the Jones Act became law. Could you imagine a Costa Concordia-type disaster in the Mississippi, or something like the Korean ferry Sewol tragedy (where more than 300 people, mostly schoolchildren, lost their lives) on the Ohio?

And none of us even wants to picture foreign-documented mariners plying our lakes and inland waters with no American security screenings.


I believe that’s what would happen if the Jones Act went away. Repealing that law would wipe out the domestic fleet. It would kill hundreds of thousands of American jobs, including billets on coastwise tankers, tugboats, barges and ferries, both union and non-union alike. It would do irreparable harm to the pool of civilian mariners, including SIU members, who have sailed or will sail on U.S. military support ships in times of war or emergency.

We can’t let that happen, and we won’t let that happen. But it is truly a never-ending fight, and that’s where you come in. If you want to protect the Jones Act, send a letter or an email to your representatives in Washington, and tell them your job depends on it. If you’re already
contributing to SPAD, I thank you and I urge you to continue. If you’re not signed up for SPAD, this is the right time to get on board – just talk to your patrolman or port agent, either aboard ship or at a union hall.


Overall, our union has outstanding participation in SPAD, but the one area that really needs improvement is the inland and offshore sector. Those jobs are directly dependent on the Jones Act, and that’s not a small consideration in light of the fact SPAD is nothing short of crucial in our efforts to deliver pro-maritime messages at every level of government.

I ask you to join me in continuing our battle to uphold this most worthy law.

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