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Republicans Move To Stop Future Seaport Drama

Business groups are applauding lawmakers for introducing a bill Friday to prevent future incidents at West Coast seaports after a costly labor dispute.

“This year’s slowdown at West Coast ports demonstrated the disastrous consequences that labor disputes at our ports can have on businesses, consumers, and the entire economy,” Sen. Cory Gardner, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

The dispute began in May when the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) were unable to agree on a new labor contract. The inability to come to a deal and the resulting port congestion prompted economic problems in many industries. It wasn’t until pressure from the president and a visit from Labor Secretary Tom Perez on Feb. 20 that the two sides were able to reach an agreement.

The Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments Act is designed to discourage disruptions and incentivize quick resolutions if a dispute does occur.

The measure would grant state governors powers under the Taft-Hartley Act that are currently reserved for the president, such as the ability to convene a board of inquiry and the ability to petition federal courts to enjoin slowdowns, strikes, or lockouts at ports in their states.

“Labor union bosses should not be allowed to hold the economy hostage, nor should they be allowed to use the livelihoods and jobs of millions of Americans as bargaining chips,” Gardner continued. “This Act would empower local leaders, who are most affected by these port disruptions, to apply pressure to their state governments to bring these damaging disputes to an end.”

The act is being supported by the National Retail Federation (NRF), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Agriculture Transportation Coalition along with dozens of other trade groups whose industries were affected by the dispute.

The impact on the economy was significant and incredibly costly, especially in those industries reliant on importing and exporting goods such as the auto industry, retail, manufacturing and many types of farms. According to a report by the NRF, cargo moving through West Coast ports represents an economic value of 12.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

The report details how the port disruptions and work stoppage that resulted from the dispute didn’t just cost $2.5 billion a day, with changes of daily cost increasing if the stoppages went longer, it also impacted employment numbers, loss of overall GDP and caused significant strain on families of port workers and related industries. Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

Additionally, according to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the dispute contributed to the anemic 0.2 percent annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2015.

“The nation’s ports and the cargo that flows through them are the lifeblood of our economy,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at NRF, said in a statement.

“Our ports need to function and operate before, during and after any port labor contract negotiation, and this bill would make it easier to be sure that remains the case,” he noted. “The supply chain needs predictability to work and should remain free from any man-made disasters — be it delays, disruptions, slowdowns, shutdown or strikes.”

In May, Senate leaders proposed their own bill in the hopes of also preventing the next major port dispute. The proposal is designed to help lawmakers identify port disruptions caused by labor disputes, or other factors, before they cause serious damage to the economy.

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