Congress bills on port labour not “necessary”, says US Labour Secretary

Congress bills on port labour not “necessary”, says US Labour Secretary

The US secretary of labour, Thomas Perez, has deemed several bills before Congress, which aim to make the union disruption of port operations more unlikely, as not “necessary”.

He praised the way the stand-off between the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) was ended in February, endorsing the “collective bargaining process”.

His comments mean that the chances of the Obama administration supporting the legislation are remote.

The labour secretary, who helped broker the deal that ended the West Coast labour dispute, stated that promoting infrastructural investment was the government’s top priority.

“I don’t support those bills. I don’t think they are necessary,” Perez said on Monday. “The collective bargaining process worked. The most important thing we can do, not only here at the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, is to help with investments in infrastructure so that we can compete with the rest of the world.”

As yet, three bills have been introduced in Congress relating to port labour. For a bill to become law, it must be passed by the senate and the house and then be signed off by the president.

The Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act, sponsored by two Republican senators, would give the president the power to intervene to halt port labour slowdowns as well as strikes. It would also allow state governors to initiate the process for federal back-to-work injunctions.

A bill promoted by ICTSI Oregon – the Preventing Labour Union Slowdowns Act of 2015 (PLUS Act), would amend the National Labour Relations Act, the law governing unionized port labour, 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.

A third bill would mandate the collection of port productivity statistics to provide a benchmark of normal productivity before, during and after labour negotiations.

Perez also defended president Obama’s urgency in dealing with the US West Coast labour crisis earlier this year, adding that the mayors and port directors in Los Angeles and Long Beach were in frequent contact with the Obama administration.

According to the Journal of Commerce, the president’s message that was passed on to the negotiators was, “We are agnostic on how you resolve the issues, but not on how soon.”