In a recent op-ed featured in Alaska Economic Trends, Alaska Department of Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas extolled the virtues of the U.S. domestic shipping trade as it relates to the Alaskan economy.
“Since joining Governor Walker’s cabinet as labor commissioner, I have been working to achieve his goal of improving Alaska Hire,” said Drygas. Alaska Hire is an initiative designed to help Alaskan residents get jobs in several industries through a resident hire preference.
She continued, “As most Alaskans know, we can’t achieve that goal without good state and federal policies. I want to highlight one federal policy that is essential to Alaska Hire: the Merchant Marine Act, commonly known as the Jones Act.”
She continued, “The Jones Act requires that interstate and intrastate shipping is conducted through ships that are built, owned, and crewed by Americans. Today, the Transportation Institute estimates 1,200 Alaskans have jobs in the maritime sector thanks to the Jones Act. In addition, maritime companies have invested $350 million in infrastructure for shipping in Alaska over the last 10 years.”
Drygas said that America’s freight cabotage law, which has protected U.S. national, economic and homeland security for nearly a century, is a commonsense policy. “Without the Jones Act, many of those jobs and investment dollars would have gone overseas, to the detriment of our economy,” she wrote. “The math is simple. It is cheaper to build boats in overseas factories, where workers have few or no rights, than to employ Alaskans at shipyards such as our world-class facility in Ketchikan. It is cheaper to operate boats with underpaid foreign workers rather than hire Alaskan seamen who earn a good middle-class wage.”
She also mentioned one of the most critical ways the Jones Act fleet supports the nation: “We also must consider national security preparedness. Maintaining a strong shipbuilding industry in the United States means we have the capacity to scale up production quickly. That capacity helped us win World War II, and we should never surrender our industrial strength to overseas adversaries.”
Speaking specifically on the domestic maritime industry’s importance to Alaska, she said, “There are always those who think a race to the bottom will somehow create jobs or attract investment. In the maritime sector, nothing could be further from the truth. We know based on decades of experience that the Jones Act creates thousands of solid middle-class careers for Alaskans while sustaining our region’s shipbuilding industry. Repeal of or exemptions from the Jones Act would put our shipyards out of business and send Alaskans’ jobs overseas. It would also raise the risk of oil spills and undermine national security.”
She concluded, “At the state, we’re working hard to strengthen Alaska Hire policies, and repeal of the Jones Act would be contrary to those efforts. Alaskans are fortunate in that our congressional delegation has a long record of supporting the Jones Act because its repeal would be devastating for our economy. Alaska’s current maritime workers, and the generations to come, are best served by keeping the Jones Act intact.”