A bill introduced by two Republican senators is a manifestation of the lingering displeasure with the long-running and tenuous – though now concluded – negotiations between the Pacific Managers Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) over a new contract.
PORTS Act designed to alter labor negotiations
The Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act was sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner and Lamar Alexander, from Colorado and Tennessee, respectively, the Journal of Commerce reported. The legislation is in response to the negotiations between the union and the manager's organization that ran through much of 2014 and early 2015 and led to slowdowns at numerous ports. While work continued throughout the two groups' discussions, uncertainty over the lengthy talks as well as alleged slowdown efforts by workers on both sides proved obstacles to smooth port operations.
The legislation introduced by the senators would expand the Taft-Hartley Act – a bill the president did not take advantage of during PMA-ILWU discussions, for which he was criticized – to specifically include lockouts, strikes and slowdowns. The Taft-Hartley Act initiates a "multi-step process for a back-to-work injunction" to cease strikes and lockouts. The PORTS Act would help the president in intervening in labor slowdowns at ports, as well as give state governors new powers to launch the process for federal back-to-work injunctions. This, so that union members could not use the economy as a "bargaining chip," Gardner explained. Port gridlock last year was part of the reason GDP growth was a meager 0.2 percent in the first quarter.
A bill with plenty of support, but little hope
Numerous organizations affected by the port slowdowns welcomed the introduction of Gardner and Alexander's PORTS Act. The National Retail Federation issued a press release detailing its support for the legislation. The communication also noted that "over 100 business and trade associations," such as the Agricultural Transportation Coalition and the National Association of Manufacturers would like to see the bill pass. The NRF organized a coalition letter signed by these groups to express their backing of the PORTS Act.
"This bill is critical to ensure that port disruptions resulting from labor contract negotiations do not negatively impact the U.S. economy," the letter explained. "We believe this is a tool that will help provide certainty to future negotiations."
There's little hope that the bill will actually pass in the near-future Michael LeRoy, labor law professor at the University of Illinois, explained to the Journal of Commerce. Instead, the proposal seems to be an appeal to Republican supporters, rather than an actual attempt to change the face of labor negotiations.