ICTSI Efforts to Labor Slowdowns
The Preventing Labor Union Slowdowns Act of 2015 (PLUS Act) was introduced last Thursday in the United States Senate to help prevent the type of maritime labor slowdowns at the Port of Portland and 28 other West Coast ports that disrupted domestic and international trade and nearly brought the U.S. economy to a standstill earlier this year. The PLUS Act, which was introduced by Idaho Senator James Risch, was the result of efforts by ICTSI Oregon, Inc., the terminal operating company for the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, to focus congressional attention on the ongoing problem of maritime labor slowdowns.
The measure would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to make intentional slowdowns by maritime unions an unfair labor practice. Offending labor organizations would be subjected to federal court injunctions against slowdowns as well as damage claims to injured parties. Intentional slowdowns are orchestrated campaigns by labor unions such as the International Warehouse and Longshore Union (ILWU) to essentially engage in a strike with little or no cost to their members. In contrast to a formal strike, however, union workers continue receiving full pay and benefits, even as they inflict significant damage on the local, regional and national economies.
“As a port operator, ICTSI Oregon has deep relationships with local small businesses, farmers, and the import and export community throughout the Columbia River region and Western states. We identify with the significant pain they continue to experience as a result of the ILWU’s actions during the most recent contract negotiations,” said ICTSI Oregon CEO Elvis Ganda. “If enacted, the PLUS Act will help ensure that a small number of workers cannot engage in unfair labor practices that threaten our nation’s economic prosperity and hold our economy hostage.”
While intentional slowdowns are not a significant problem in most segments of the U.S. economy, they are a major and growing problem in the maritime industry, particularly the West Coast. Currently, a loophole in the NLRA has allowed the ILWU to use slowdowns as leverage against ports and port operators—particularly during contract negotiations. As a result, the last three contract negotiation years have seen major disruption to the West Coast and U.S. economy. In 2002, a 10-day shutdown as a result of labor slowdowns cost the U.S. economy an estimated $15.6 billion. This past year, economists report that slowdowns subtracted a full percentage point off the entire U.S. GDP during Q4 2014.
ICTSI Oregon representatives recently made trips to Washington, D.C. to propose and build support among congressional lawmakers and trade associations for reasonable maritime labor law reform. According to Ganda, there is growing support among a diverse range of stakeholders to find a solution to West Coast labor issues and significant interest in the proposed legislation. ICTSI Oregon has worked closely with Senator Risch and his staff to finalize the PLUS Act for Senate consideration.
“We applaud Senator Risch’s leadership in proposing the PLUS Act and are hopeful that other West Coast representatives and senators will champion the measure,” said Ganda. “This legislation represents an important change to maritime labor law that will go a long way toward ensuring a more stable work environment at West Coast ports, one in which innocent parties are not subjected to severe economic damage by unfair union slowdown tactics.”