NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Open and Operating Ports Put Cash in Worker's Pockets

April 29, 2015

America's economic growth depends on ports for a competitive edge in exports and for the flow of imported goods that bolster Americans' paychecks. The costs incurred during slowdowns at U.S. ports, recent and otherwise, highlight the considerable importance of ports to the U.S. economy and the need to reform U.S. port labor law. Indeed, if America is to reap the benefits of the two major new free-trade deals currently under negotiation, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), U.S. ports must be open for business.

With international trade now a substantial and rising component of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, port slowdowns and shutdowns present a growing threat to national commerce:

  • During the West Coast port slowdown of 2014-15, apple farmers lost $19 million per week, while certain foreign companies had to airfreight goods into the United States.
  • In 2002, an 11-day West Coast port lockout cost the U.S. economy $15.6 billion.
  • Slowdowns prevent shippers and truckers from operating, which raises costs for U.S. importers and exporters. Higher costs are passed on to U.S. consumers and make American exporters less competitive.

Ports are no less critical to U.S. infrastructure and trade — and should be governed in the same manner as America's railroad and airline industries. Congress and the president should not allow millions of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars in income to be held hostage when labor contracts expire. It is time to update U.S. labor law by putting the country's ports under the Railway Labor Act's (RLA) jurisdiction.

Source: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "Held Hostage: U.S. Ports, Labor Unrest, and the Threat to National Commerce," Economic Policies for the 21st Century, April 2015. 


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