U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-Louisiana) recently introduced the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act. This bill, cosponsored in the House by Reps. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) and John Garamendi (D-California), provides a level playing field between U.S.-flagged vessels and foreign-flagged vessels working in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters, according to its proponents.
“U.S. and Louisiana mariners and maritime companies lose when foreign vessels, which do not pay U.S. taxes, business taxes or payroll taxes, take advantage of loopholes to hire foreign workers for half the cost,” said Cassidy. “This bill … gives the American worker a fair shot.” The proposed changes also improve the oversight of foreign-flag vessels and the mariners who work on them.
“Our bipartisan bill closes an egregious Jones Act loophole so that foreign- flagged vessels are held to the same high standards as U.S.-flagged vessels developing our nation’s offshore energy resources, including for offshore wind projects,” said Garamendi. “As the former Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I know that American workers and U.S.-flagged vessels are ready, willing, and able to do this work.”
Graves stated, “Louisiana has a great opportunity with this bipartisan legislation to bring more jobs to the Gulf region and make sure there are good job opportunities in Louisiana. Other countries are taking advantage of using foreign vessels and workers operating in U.S. waters. This is not a level playing field, not putting America first, and we need to close this loophole. This bill takes us a step closer to bringing parity to the market. I look forward to working with my colleagues in ensuring an American workforce produces America’s energy and promotes our way of life in south Louisiana.”
“The Shipbuilders Council of America and the 400,000 men and women in our domestic shipbuilding workforce strongly support the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act,” said Matthew Paxton, president of the council. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation closes a loophole that has long been exploited by foreign competitors to undercut America’s maritime workforce. We applaud the efforts of Senator Cassidy, Representative Graves, and Representative Garamendi in showing leadership by standing up for the men and women of America’s maritime industry.”
“On a level playing field, U.S. vessels and U.S. merchant mariners can compete with any anyone on the planet. However, we cannot compete with mariners making far less than what any U.S. citizen would or should accept,” said Offshore Marine Service Association President Aaron Smith. “The American Offshore Worker Fairness Act closes this loophole and ensures that when foreign vessels operate in U.S. waters, they play by our rules and pay U.S.-level wages. As such, we wholeheartedly endorse this legislation and applaud Dr. Cassidy for all he is doing to help Louisiana mariners.”
As stated in the “Frequently Asked Questions” that was issued by Cassidy’s office alongside the bill, “U.S. mariners are already serving on U.S.-owned/U.S.- flagged and U.S.-owned/foreign-flagged, and even in some very rare cases foreign-owned/ foreign-flagged subsea construction vessels. This class of vessels perform very technical and demanding work within the offshore industry so know U.S. mariners can do this work. Further, the U.S. merchant marine is highly skilled and qualified, and the U.S. has some of the best maritime training schools in the world, thus, there is no reason to think that additional U.S. mariners cannot be trained to conduct this work.”
The American Offshore Worker Fairness Act would:
- Require the U.S. Coast Guard to inspect these vessels annually to ensure compliance with this law and that the crew members on these vessels secure TWIC cards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Require mariners on foreign-flagged vessels be either U.S. citizens or citizens of the nation where the vessel is flagged.
- Limit the number of visas that could be issued to crew of each foreign vessel to 2.5 times the number of crewmembers on that vessel. This would allow for regular crew shift changes.
- Require foreign vessels prove their ownership on an annual basis.
The full text of the bill is available online.