America’s Freight Cabotage Law Boosts National, Economic, Homeland Security
Supporters of America’s freight cabotage law are continuing to fight back against false accusations concerning the Jones Act.
The latest battle began after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September. Jones Act critics, facilitated by sloppy reporting in the commercial media, falsely claimed that the law was hampering recovery efforts. They also erroneously charged that the Jones Act harms Puerto Rico’s economy.
The SIU and many allies immediately took action, on multiple fronts. The union testified at two House hearings, while Jones Act carriers, the coalition American Maritime Partnership (AMP), pro-maritime legislators, the AFL-CIO and others (along with the SIU) engaged in wide-ranging grassroots activities. Those efforts included contacting legislators, submitting op-ed articles, being active on social media, purchasing ads, posting news releases and more.
Although proposed legislation has been submitted in both houses of Congress to weaken or eliminate the Jones Act, support for the law remains strong.
On the books since 1920, the Jones Act requires that cargo moving between U.S. ports is carried on vessels that are crewed, built, owned and flagged American. It’s a source of nearly 500,000 American jobs, and is considered vital to national, economic and homeland security. Dozens of other nations maintain similar statutes, known as cabotage laws.
In a mid-October letter to U.S. senators, William Samuel, director of government affairs for the AFL-CIO, wrote in part, “Since 1789, the federal government has regulated coastal trade and, like many other maritime nations, has enacted laws to maintain a domestic maritime industry to ensure that we would not be dependent on foreign nations in times of war or natural disasters. The Jones Act accomplishes this goal…. Since the Jones Act ensures that our labor laws protect maritime employees, repealing the Act would pave the way for foreign companies to replace domestic crews with lower-paid workers lacking basic labor protections. According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, foreign-flag ships often do not enforce safety standards, minimum social standards or trade union rights, fail to pay crews, and avoid compliance with environmental standards.
“The Jones Act has in no way impeded Puerto Rico’s recovery,” he continued. “Fully loaded Jones Act ships began arriving as soon as the main port in Puerto Rico reopened. News footage of containers piling up at the Port of San Juan offered visual proof that life-saving supplies were arriving hourly on Jones Act ships, as well as on foreign ships not covered by the Jones Act. These supplies were not getting to interior sections of Puerto Rico because of transportation bottlenecks and a shortage of truck drivers, not because of a lack of ships…. Repealing the Jones Act would not result in additional supplies getting to the island, but it would jeopardize the survival of the U.S. maritime sector and along with it thousands of jobs that would be outsourced to foreign carriers.”
AMP pointed out, “The domestic American maritime industry strengthens U.S. national security at zero cost to the federal government. The domestic maritime fleet provides capacity and manpower that the armed forces can draw upon to support U.S. military operations. American ships, crews to man them, ship construction and repair yards, intermodal equipment, terminals, cargo tracking systems, and other infrastructure are available to the U.S. military at a moment’s notice in times of war, national emergency, or even in peacetime.
“The Jones Act ensures a strong and vibrant maritime industry, which helps ensure the United States maintains its expertise in shipbuilding and waterborne transportation,” AMP continued. “The U.S. Navy’s position is clear – repeal of the Jones Act would ‘hamper [America’s] ability to meet strategic sealift requirements and Navy shipbuilding.’ Without American maritime, the U.S. would be dependent on foreign-owned and -flagged vessels for the transport of waterborne commerce in and around the country.”
Just as the claims that the Jones Act slowed recovery efforts were baseless, so, too, are the accusations about the law driving up costs on the island. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found no evidence that the Jones Act increases expenses in Puerto Rico, and in fact concluded that it has helped ensure reliable shipping service between there and the continental U.S.
Similarly, according to figures from what is believed to be the world’s largest database of user-contributed statistics about cities and countries worldwide, Puerto Rico receives Jones Act shipping service that is cheaper, more regular and more reliable than foreign shipping rates and service to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). Consumer prices are far lower in Puerto Rico than in the USVI; in fact, in most cases, they’re also higher on the U.S. mainland than in Puerto Rico.