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Bill Aims to Curb Port Slowdowns

New legislation introduced in the Senate aims to prevent the kind of labor slowdowns that crippled West Coast ports in 2014-15, and which resulted in severe damage to the nation’s economy.

Called the Prevent Labor Union Slowdowns (or PLUS Act), the bill is backed by Republican Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo of Idaho, and David Perdue, of Georgia.

The measure would change the National Labor Relations Act to define a labor slowdown by maritime workers as an unfair labor practice.

“Since a slowdown is currently restricted from classification as an unfair labor practice under federal labor law, port managers lack the power to call in an order from an arbiter during contract negotiations directing workers to work at a normal pace,” the legislators point out.

The bill also would allow shippers, terminal operators and transportation services providers to sue for double damages resulting from such a slowdown, as well as recover attorney and expert witness fees they incur in pursuing such relief.

“The slowdown method is detrimental to port managers because remuneration for full benefits and salaries is required, and replacing or firing employees cannot occur,” Sen. Rich notes.

If such labor action is taken in the near future, it will be costly. The Department of Labor projects that a 10-day West Coast port shutdown would cut the nation’s annual GDP by $2.6 billion and reduce that year’s third-quarter GDP growth rate by 0.1%.

However, labor and management are working to prevent a repeat of 2014-15. The International Longshore Warehouse Union and port employers in the Pacific Maritime Association have held early talks in preparation for formal negotiations that are scheduled begin before the current contract expires in July 2019 (AA, 10-15-16, P. 3).

The International Longshore Association also has opened early contract discussions with East Coast port employers.

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