Lawmakers act to pre-empt port disruptions

by Erica Shaffer
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Port of Long Beach
The PORTS Act will give state governors the power to intervene in port labor disputes.

WASHINGTON – Legislation introduced in the US Senate aims to avoid the disruptions and slowdowns that have crippled ports on the West Coast.

The Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act grants Taft-Hartley powers to state governors. Currently, Taft Hartley powers are reserved for the president. The PORTS Act grants governors the power to appoint a board of inquiry to investigate port labor disputes if the dispute harms the US economy. Governors could petition federal courts to stop slowdowns, strikes or lockouts at ports in their state.

US Sen. Cory Gardner introduced the PORTS Act, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

“This year’s slowdown at West Coast ports demonstrated the disastrous consequences that labor disputes at our ports can have on businesses, consumers and the entire economy,” Gardner said in a statement. “Labor union bosses should not be allowed to hold the economy hostage, nor should they be allowed to use the livelihoods and jobs of millions of Americans as bargaining chips. This act would empower local leaders, who are most affected by these port disruptions, to apply pressure to their state governments to bring these damaging disputes to an end.”

The nine-month contract dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union ended in February after the unions and port operators developed a new contract. The groups recently ratified the contract.

The National Pork Producers Council said it supports the PORTS Act. NPPC said the labor dispute at the West Coast ports cost the US meat and poultry industry an estimated $40 million per week.

“The US pork industry, which currently exports 27 percent of total production annually — with exports expected to continue to increase — is increasingly dependent on an efficiently functioning infrastructure, including the ports system.”

The PORTS Act comes as port truck drivers launched a strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

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