Jones Act union official calls islands “off-mainland threat”
by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council
I recently came across an editorial written six months ago by a national maritime union official that neatly recaps the Hawaii Shippers’ Council (HSC))’s Jones Act reform strategy and its links with similar efforts in the other noncontiguous jurisdictions of Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico. As the title implies, the purpose of the piece was not to endorse Jones Act reform, but rather to scare his membership about the imagined risks to their jobs that might arise from reform -- labeling them an “off-mainland threat” -- and thereby trying to induce his members into making political contributions to support Jones Act political candidates.
The article was written by Tom Bethel, national president of the American Maritime Officers (AMO). the largest U.S. union representing licensed deck and engine officers and affiliated with the Seafarers International Union of North America (SIUNA), which represents unlicensed U.S. merchant seamen. Both unions are members of theMaritime Trades Department AFL-CIO.
Mr. Bethel engaged in politically incorrect language in handling of the noncontiguous jurisdictions. Both in the title of his piece, “Jones Act milestone marred by off-mainland threats” and in the body where he characterized them as “the remote states and territories.” He obviously doesn’t think these places are of any importance or deserving of respect, but rather by his language he implies that they are there to serve as colonial employment opportunities for his first world mainland union members.
Despite all his union hyperbole about the Jones Act, Mr. Bethel fails to recognize certain fundamental facts about what is best for his union and its membership. His membership in large part relies on Jones Act shipping for employment. However, the Jones Act has created an artificial scarcity of coastwise eligible ships due to extraordinarily high shipbuilding costs in the United States. This severely limits the number of ships in the Jones Act fleet and significantly reduces their employment opportunities. The Jones Act shipbuilding requirement is not only a burden on the noncontiguous jurisdictions but also on the U.S. seafarers.
The HSC has put forward a solution to this issue proposing that the noncontiguous trades be exempted from the U.S. build requirement of the Jones Act for large oceangoing ships. This limited exemption would leave in place the other Jones Act requirements of U.S.-flag, U.S.-crew and U.S.-ownership, and would not affect the tug and barge industry. And, it would dramatically increase the supply of large oceangoing ships for the noncontiguous trades and promote more U.S. flag employment.
This reform would create an environment not unlike that of the U.S.-flag international trade fleet of 96 deep draft ships – which are all foreign-built U.S.-flag – and carry largely but not exclusively what are known as “government impelled” cargoes under various federal cargo preference laws and regulations. As the AMO has a large presence in this fleet, they should understand how the HSC proposal would work in practice.
As Mr. Bethel at the end of his piece asked his membership to call him with any comments, we would likewise encourage them to contact Mr. Bethel and express their support for the HSC’s Jones Act reform proposal that will provide more domestic employment opportunities for them.