A prominent United States senator and a number of labor organizations (including the SIU) recently spoke out in support of America’s freight cabotage law.
In early November, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas criticizing the “unnecessary and improper Jones Act waivers” issued by the agency for petroleum and liquid natural gas shipments to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona.
“These waivers were unlawful, unnecessary, and in direct contradiction to the government’s longstanding expressed interest in protecting American industry,” Wicker wrote. “Both waivers were issued for vessels that had already left port and were in route to Puerto Rico, sending a direct signal to foreign companies that our current political leadership is willing to suspend traditional norms and bipartisan support for the American maritime industry during times of crisis.”
Wicker continued, “When reviewing future Jones Act waiver requests, I urge you to consider the implications of unnecessary waivers, abide by the law, and put the domestic maritime industry ahead of foreign competition.”
He further noted, “The U.S. Merchant Marine is vital to our economic security and defense readiness. The issuance of these waivers sets a dangerous precedent and sharply erodes the strength of our domestic maritime industry. Both waivers were issued for vessels that had already left port and were in route to Puerto Rico, sending a direct signal to foreign companies that our current political leadership is willing to suspend traditional norms and bipartisan support for the American maritime industry during times of crisis. Based on your recent decisions, Jones Act waiver requests will inevitably increase in frequency….”
Meanwhile, the SIU and allies are pushing back against an attack that originated in mid-October in the New Jersey legislature. State senate officials passed a non-binding resolution asking Congress to “permanently waive” the Jones Act between mainland U.S. ports and Puerto Rico, due to natural disaster-caused shortages on the island commonwealth.
In response, the SIU, the Maritime Trades Department and several other labor organizations sent communications to Craig J. Coughlin, speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, pointing out that the Jones Act helps maintain hundreds of thousands of American jobs and contributes billions of dollars each year to the national economy. SIU President Michael Sacco was among the signatories.
One of those letters also pointed out, “The domestic maritime industry (governed by the Jones Act) contributes $3.8 billion annually to the New Jersey economy and supports more than 15,000 domestic maritime industry jobs there. This means New Jersey is one of the nation’s leaders in Jones Act-supported jobs – and they’re all at risk, because of the aforementioned resolution. “Crisis arbitrage is nothing new, and that’s especially the case regarding the Jones Act and Puerto Rico,” the letter continued. “Enemies of American-flag shipping routinely try to weaken or eliminate the law in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, despite there being no factual justification for doing so. The Jones Act does not adversely affect prices in the territory and it not only doesn’t impede relief efforts, it helps ensure reliable, dedicated service to the island. Numerous studies have verified that Puerto Rico greatly benefits from the Jones Act. “There is nothing to gain and much to lose by exempting Puerto Rico from this commonsense law,” the letter added. “The island already receives most of its cargo from foreign-flag ships – vessels whose rates for Puerto Rico skyrocketed during the pandemic while U.S.-flag costs to the territory remained steady. Meanwhile, there’s simply no evidence that the law has ever had negative effects on the island during any rebuilding effort.”
The organizations further pointed out that more than 90 countries around the world maintain some form of cabotage law and then described the state senate resolution as “a deeply flawed, completely unnecessary attack on the United States.”