The Preventing Labor Union Slowdowns Act of 2015 (PLUS Act) was introduced last Thursday (18 June) in the US Senate to help prevent the type of maritime labour slowdowns at the Port of Portland and 28 other West Coast ports that disrupted domestic and international trade and nearly brought the US economy to a standstill earlier this year.
The PLUS Act, was the result of efforts by ICTSI Oregon (IOI), the terminal operating company for the Port of Portland’s Terminal 6, to focus congressional attention on the ongoing problem of maritime labour slowdowns.
The measure would amend the National Labour Relations Act (NLRA) to make intentional slowdowns by maritime unions an unfair labour practice. Offending labour organisations would be subjected to federal court injunctions against slowdowns as well as damage claims to injured parties.
Intentional slowdowns are orchestrated campaigns by labour 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.
“If enacted, the PLUS Act will help ensure that a small number of workers cannot engage in unfair labour practices that threaten our nation’s economic prosperity and hold our economy hostage,” said ICTSI Oregon CEO Elvis Ganda.
While intentional slowdowns are not a significant problem in most segments of the US 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 US economy. In 2002, a 10-day shutdown as a result of labour slowdowns cost the US economy an estimated US$15.6bn. This past year, economists report that slowdowns subtracted a full percentage point off the entire U.S. GDP during Q4 2014.
According to Ganda, there is growing support among a diverse range of stakeholders to find a solution to West Coast labour issues and significant interest in the proposed legislation.
“This legislation represents an important change to maritime labour 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,” he said.