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Dock Workers Hurt Agriculture

Article courtesy Gary Baise

On December 3, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge declared “The public has the right to the uninterrupted service of transportation, and therefore a right to be heard when there is danger that the nation may suffer a great injury to the interruption of operations because of labor disputes.”

If Mr. Trump is elected, he might be the one guy who could help agriculture from losing billions of dollars from labor disruptions at America’s ports. I doubt the Republican nominee, if it is Mr. Trump, has any knowledge or any understanding of agriculture, but labor unions harming agriculture should be of interest to the next President of the United States.

The Capital Research Center performed a terrific service in its September 2015 report, by publishing the research of a former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. The study describes vividly how longshoremen dock workers caused cargoes to pile up last January, costing North American meat producers $30 million a week!

In January, 2015, one straw exporter could not ship its hay to hungry cows in South Korea or Japan. The CRC quotes a February 8, 2015, news article which declared that California navel oranges and lemons were “…losing 25% of our opportunity year to date because of the slowdowns of West Coast ports…”

Another story from Reuters, cited by CRC, declared California growers (who normally export $500 million of its citrus crop to Asia) had their exports reduced “…by about 25%, or roughly $125 million since October according to [the group].” American farmers export 71% of their almonds, 55% of their wheat, and 49% of their soybeans.

The 2014 West Coast labor dispute created huge delays in shipping corn, soybeans and wheat to Asian markets. I could go on listing huge losses to the economy, such as McDonald’s not being able to ship french fries to Japan because of the 2014 West Coast port slowdowns.

Who is causing this problem for American agriculture? The West Coast ports are staffed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The average annual ILWU salary is $147,000. The dock workers receive a maximum of $80,000 annually in retirement and free health care. There are 37,000 members of the ILWU working at 29 ports along the West Coast. The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) has approximately 43,500 members who work the East Coast ports, the Gulf and the Great Lakes. ILA members have an average annual wage of $124,000.

According to the CRC Report, these dock workers have incredible influence over who gets hired. For example, the ILA union handles job applications directly because the ports have a policy not to hire labor. The unions do it.

CRC’s September report examines why the longshoremen have such power over our agricultural exports. The dock workers’ labor disputes are governed by the National Labor Relations Act and it covers the dock workers and allows them to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Board does not have authority to stop disputes arising over expiring contracts. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act was created to “prevent or minimize the free flow of commerce by providing mediation, conciliation and voluntary arbitration.” This does not stop the dock workers from slowing their work and costing agriculture billions of dollars.

CRC describes the Railway Labor Act passed in the 1930s. Its goal was to “…ensure that commerce was not disrupted due to labor disputes.” Disputes in the railroad and airline industries are subject to mediation so that the disputes are resolved quickly and without a disruption to commerce. The RLA made it very clear there is a “moral obligation” to settle disputes and have continuity of transportation services. The longshoremen should be put under the RLA to stop the harm to farmers exporting their product and costing agriculture enormous sums of money.

The author of the CRC report, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, states “The president and congress should not allow millions of jobs and hundreds of billions in income be held hostage every time a contract expires.”

Exporters of agricultural products have a huge stake in getting the longshoremen placed under the Railway Labor Act. It is a real question as to whether any of the presidential candidates can help agriculture.