The SIU testified today at a hearing conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. The oral statement of SIU Political and Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman appears below. (He spoke on behalf of several U.S. maritime unions.)
A video of the entire hearing is available on the subcommittee’s website HERE
Throughout the hearing, panelists and congressmen expressed strong support for America’s freight cabotage law and continued to set the record straight regarding the law’s positive effects on Puerto Rico.
Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-California) said in his opening statement, “Critics continue to assail the U.S.-flag fleet and the Jones Act as an antiquated industry and law, unnecessary in today’s world. These critics promoted claims the law prohibited supplies from getting to Puerto Rico. However, as we know, that was false. Supplies have been getting to the island and have been backlogged at the ports, due to the devastation of logistics on the island. Foreign vessels are also bringing fuel and supplies to the island from foreign ports; the Jones Act does not prohibit that from happening.”
Schoeneman said in part: “To be clear – the Jones Act is not impeding relief efforts in Puerto Rico right now. It never did. It is not forcing aid to be turned away, nor is it slowing down efforts to get relief supplies to the people who need them. Foreign-flag ships with cargo from ports outside the United States are, and always have been, allowed entry to Puerto Rico. The claim that the Jones Act is impeding relief efforts is a lie – and no matter how many times those bought-and-paid-for academics and their cronies in the media repeat that lie, it remains a lie. The amount of fake news around the Jones Act has been staggering.”
Opening Statement by Brian Schoeneman
Thank you, Chairman Hunter, Ranking Member Garamendi and members of the subcommittee. Good morning. My name is Brian Schoeneman, legislative director for the Seafarers International Union. I am here today on behalf of sea-going maritime labor, including the Seafarers, the American Maritime Officers, the Marine Engineers, and the Masters, Mates and Pilots. Together we represent all of the mariners currently engaged in the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands trade. All told, our unions represent tens of thousands of Jones Act mariners sailing across the United States today.
The men and women of the United States Merchant Marine stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and our members who live and work there. We remain committed to working with our operators, with the Federal Government and the many, many others who are working right now to bring critical supplies, food, medicine, water and fuel to those in need in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Despite the misinformation that has spread like a disease throughout both the mainstream media and through social media maritime labor knows – from firsthand experience – the critical role that the Jones Act plays in keeping America safe, ensuring our economic, homeland and national security.
Our members have been servicing Puerto Rico for more than half a century. Each of our unions has a presence in Puerto Rico, and two of our unions have facilities there. Between the four of us, our unions represent hundreds of Puerto Ricans and their families, and the SIU represents over 2,600 men and women in the Virgin Islands alone. We have been doing our part to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands recover because these are our friends, our families and our fellow American citizens who are suffering, and they have not been forgotten. The United States Merchant Marine has braved countless hazards over the centuries, from hurricanes to hostile warships, to deliver the goods to our troops and to people around the world whenever and wherever needed and now is no different.
Make no mistake: Maritime labor has never, not once, opposed a waiver of the Jones Act in an emergency when there were not enough ships or mariners to handle the job. We have never let a ship sail shorthanded. At the same time, we have never been willing to support waivers of the Jones Act that were unnecessary.
To be clear – the Jones Act is not impeding relief efforts in Puerto Rico right now. It never did. It is not forcing aid to be turned away, nor is it slowing down efforts to get relief supplies to the people who need them. Foreign-flag ships with cargo from ports outside the United States are, and always have been, allowed entry to Puerto Rico. The claim that the Jones Act is impeding relief efforts is a lie – and no matter how many times those bought-and-paid-for academics and their cronies in the media repeat that lie, it remains a lie. The amount of fake news around the Jones Act has been staggering.
It is critical that Congress not act rashly in response to this disaster. Some of the proposals being made, whether for long-term waivers of the Jones Act or for a permanent exception for Puerto Rico, are foolhardy and misguided at best and blatantly anti-American opportunism at worst. These legislative proposals would have severe and drastic consequences not only for Puerto Rico, but for the entire United States. Both would be unprecedented, and neither should be considered seriously without significant Congressional review and a better understanding of the potential impacts of such a drastic change to centuries of American law.
We urge Congress to exercise due diligence in fact finding, and beware of misinformation and false claims being propagated by anti-Jones Act agitators who are attempting to hijack this crisis to further their agendas.
We also ask that a full accounting be made at the end of the temporary 10-day waiver the President granted last week, so we can know what the actual impact of this waiver was on the relief efforts, if any.
Finally, we ask that Congress continue to stand with us in bipartisan support of the Jones Act.
Maritime labor, alongside our colleagues, remain committed to doing everything in our power to help our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands through the aftermath of these devastating storms.
Thank you, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.