Georgia seaports: Closing them is not an option

Moderated by Rick Badie

The union for longshoremen along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico agreed to a 30-day contract extension to avert a strike that would have crippled Georgia’s economy, notably the Savannah and Brunswick seaports. Today, a Georgia Ports Authority official explains the impact a strike would have here, while a retail executive provides a global view. A former union rep praises dockworkers for seeking their slice of the American pie.

Ports supply jobs, fuel our economy

By Curtis Foltz

Anyone who has walked along River Street in Savannah has undoubtedly seen an enormous cargo ship stacked with containers heading into or out of the Port of Savannah. Every day, thousands of dockworkers, truck drivers, stevedores and others efficiently load, unload and otherwise provide excellent service to shippers coming and going from Georgia’s front door to the global marketplace. The port moved 2.98 million containers of imports and exports in 2012; we expect to exceed 3 million this year.

The result of these laborers’ work is ensuring that $67 billion of total economic activity in Georgia continues uninterrupted. Thanks to a recent 30-day contract extension between the International Longshoremen’s Association (representing 14,000 of these workers at ports all along the east coast and Gulf) and the U.S. Maritime Alliance (representing shipping lines and terminal operators), our state’s ports in Savannah and Brunswick avoided disruption to supply chains that support jobs across Georgia. We are confident that a mutually acceptable contract will be forthcoming.

 Metro Atlanta, a major distribution hub, reaps roughly 70 percent of the port’s economic benefit. A University of Georgia study last year found more than $18.5 billion in income is tied to goods that move through our state’s ports. Truck drivers move cargo. Distribution warehouses serve retailers to supply their stores. And we export forest products, frozen chicken, kaolin clay and more. According to the study, imports and exports through the ports “translates into jobs, higher incomes, greater production of goods and services, and revenue collections for government. [They] help to preserve Georgia’s manufacturing base and foster growth of the state’s massive logistics, distribution and warehousing cluster.”

The $67 billion of total economic impact of our ports on Georgia’s economy represents nearly  10 percent of Georgia’s total economic output – or nearly 8eight percent of the State’s GDP. That means every dollar initially spent by the ports industry and ports users generates an additional 70 cents for the state’s economy.

Measured in terms of income, Georgia’s ports contribute $18.5 billion to the state’s economy — or 5 percent of the state’s total personal income. The ports support more than 350,000 full- and part-time jobs, which is more than 8 percent of Georgia’s total employment. In other words, one job out of every 12 in Georgia is in some way dependent on the ports.

Finally, the ports impact revenue generation for government services: $1.4 billion to the state; $1.1 billion to local governments and $4.5 billion to the federal government.

Our ports are particularly important to the transportation, manufacturing, distribution and agriculture industries, but these economic engines foster growth across much more of our economy. Georgia’s continued investment in its ports ensure they will remain the choice for commerce coming and going from the East Coast — and particularly the Southeast. We are grateful every day to the men and women on the front lines who keep those engines running.

Curtis Foltz is executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

Closing down ports is not an option

By Matthew Shay

While the country spent December worrying whether our nation’s economy would be sent tumbling over the fiscal cliff, the business community was also keeping a close watch on another looming economic crisis — the “container cliff.”

Just as massive tax hikes and federal spending cuts were poised to deal a devastating blow to businesses and consumers on Jan.uary 1 if Congress could not find a solution, an unprecedented strike at ports from Maine to Texas threatened to shut down a huge portion of the economy if labor and management could not agree on a contract set to expire Dec.ember 29.

A strike would have put out of work nearly 15,000 East Coast and Gulf Coast longshoremen who handle 40 percent of the nation’s ocean cargo out of work, with an immediate coast-to-coast ripple effect. Truckers hauling goods would have been idled. Retailers relying on imported merchandise would have seen shortages. Manufacturers using foreign-made parts risked factory shutdowns, and farmers exporting perishable crops would have been devastated. A similar 10-day strike at West Coast ports in 2002 cost the economy an estimated $1 billion a day.

Fortunately, the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance agreed on an extension — just over 24 hours before the strike deadline — and will continue working until Feb.ruary 6 while negotiations on a new contract continue.

Nonetheless, the threat of a strike hasn’t been eliminated. The same union came within days of striking in September before agreeing to an extension that led to the December strike deadline. The business community was hopeful in September that 90 days would be sufficient to reach a contract, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Key negotiating issues have been resolved since September, so it is hoped that an agreement is hopefully closer than before. But extension after extension does not provide the level of certainty businesses that rely on these ports require. Businesses need to make long-term plans, and every day without a contract is another day of uncertainty impacting companies’ decisions. Businesses have contingency plans, but bringing cargo into the country early, diverting shipments or using air freight is expensive.

All of this comes after the recent eight-day strike at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that temporarily closed some East Coast ports. The economic impact of those events is still being calculated.

Another port shutdown is simply not an option. The National Retail Federation has urged both sides to stay at the table and continue to negotiate. But if they can’t agree soon, President Barack Obama should use the options available to him, including authority under the Taft-Hartley Act, to prevent a shutdown before it can happen. Waiting until the ports are closed would be too late for the nation’s economy and the millions of jobs and ultimately American families who depend on these ports. Only a final, long-term contract will give the stability and certainty the business community needs to go ahead with growing the economy and creating the jobs America so badly needs.

Matthew Shay  is president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.

Dockworkers want a slice of the pie

By David Macaray

On Dec. 28, a potential strike by the International Longshoremen’s Association was averted when union negotiators agreed to extend the contract for another month and continue bargaining. Both sides took this to be a hopeful sign.

When it comes to strikes, the general public seems more tolerant when the shutdowns involve jobs they respect. A good example was the Writers Guild of America’s 100-day strike of 2007-2008. The public seemed to accept that these writers had a valid beef with the producers and were entitled to withhold their labor. After all, a strike is the only “weapon” a union has in its arsenal.

Another example: airline pilots. Although pilots don’t seem to go on strike anymore, people more or less took the view that these guys must have had a legitimate gripe. They seemed to understand that the pilots were exercising their legal right to hit the bricks. Nurses might fall into this same category.

But let the jobs be ones the public thinks anybody can do — janitors, bus drivers, housekeepers — or ones the public feels are already adequately compensated — auto workers, longshoremen, electricians — and they freak out. They become indignant. When people hear that bus drivers or hotel housekeepers walked off their jobs in order to seek better wages, they don’t seem to have much sympathy.

The argument can be made that this is all about class distinctions. Let it be a Wall Street banker who’s looking to jack up his $5 million a year to $7 million, and people don’t so much as flinch, even though the average person hasn’t the vaguest notion of how Wall Street operates or how that money is earned.

The Longshoremen’s dispute is a perfect example. No one is saying dockworkers don’t make a decent wage — even though the figures released by management are wildly misleading. They are firmly entrenched in what is, alas, the rapidly shrinking middle-class. But because they realized they had some leverage here, they were looking to improve their contract. That strategy makes eminent sense. Looking to take advantage of an opening is as American as apple pie.

If these people weren’t longshoremen, if they were defense contractors or bonds salesmen or real estate speculators or lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry, they not only wouldn’t be criticized, they’d be applauded for their ambition and resourcefulness.

But these aren’t bonds salesmen. These are hard-working men and women, dockworkers. So instead of being praised for their initiative to go the extra mile to provide for their families, they are being portrayed as greedy.In 2002, business groups begged President George W. Bush to intervene in the lockout of West Coast (ILWU) longshoremen. Why did these anti-government zealots want the government to butt into the “free market”? Because they were losing money.

The Department of Commerce reported in November 2010 that U.S. companies just had their best quarter ever. Businesses recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, which was the highest rate, in non-inflation-adjusted dollars, since the government began keeping records more than 60 years ago. And we all thought we were still in a recession!

So if money is continuing to gravitate toward businesses not only in generous amounts, but in record amounts, why are we opposed to the middle class sharing in that largess? Aren’t working folks, as much as Corporate America, entitled to a larger slice of the pie? As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich accurately noted, it’s middle-class spending that fuels our economy.

This article, written by Los Angeles playwright, author and former union rep David Macaray, appeared in CounterPunch, a bi-weekly newsletter.

7 comments Add your comment

zeke

January 10th, 2013
9:54 am

SOLUTION:

CONSTITUTIONALLY BAN ALL UNIONS AS SUBVERSIVE!!! SOCIALIST!! COMMUNIST!!!

Chip

January 10th, 2013
9:50 am

Do what Reagan did in the 1980s… fire the union whiner’s lazy butts. My business has carried me to every state in this country. I can tell you without hesitation that in right-to-work states, company employees tend to be efficient, hard-working, respectful, and grateful for their jobs.

However, in unionized states the workers are sullen, disrespectful, slow, inefficient, and lazy… that is, when they’re not standing around on their 15-minute coffee break every hour.

The economy is too important to be help hostage by a bunch of violent, drunken low-life thugs. Get rid of them and open the jobs to non-union unemployed people who actually WANT to work and who would appreciate the opportunity.

Out by the Pond

January 10th, 2013
9:37 am

Yes the ports can hire someone to come in and load and unload the ships. If they can figure out how to operate the equipment, how to balance the load and so on and so on. The Longshoremen do not need to resort to violence, they have the power of the Brotherhood. A simple strike line honored by the teamsters prevent cargo from leaving the port resulting in massive backups.

These hard working men are not asking for the whole pie. They are not even asking for an unreasonable slice of the pie. Just a small fair share of the crumbs.

DeborahinAthens

January 10th, 2013
6:48 am

@ middle of the road….loading and unloading those ships is a skill that is scarce, companies can’t just replace these workers. Nor should they. David Macaray is right. Whether by design or just accidental evolution, this country is destroying the middle class. The rich are getting richer beyond belief as corrupt, inept CEOs and upper management (Enron, Worldcom, Citigroup, Tyco,AIG, etc., etc.,) get millions in pay and stock while slashing the middle class jobs as technology makes it easier
to do so. Then they make fewer workers take up the slack.

Screwum

January 9th, 2013
1:22 pm

I will be glad to work out there for $50 and hour. If they strike please print the phone number to their employment office.

Quantavious

January 9th, 2013
12:51 pm

If they go on strike they should be replaced.

According to the International Longshoremen’s Association their dockworker members earn an average $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, with an average hourly wage of $50. Plenty of currently unemployed folks will sign up to do what is basically unskilled labor for that kind of pay.

middle of the road

January 9th, 2013
12:12 pm

Yes, a strike is a weapon in the arsenal in the unions. They have the right to strike. But as I understand it, the companies have the right to bring in replacement workers while the strike goes on. Most companies don’t do this because the expertise is not readily available or it costs to much to stay up to speed. The question is: What happens if the companies do this? Will the union resort to force? Will they get out the rifles and bombs? Or will they just understand that if they can be replaced with others who will work for the same or less, then maybe supply and demand was not on their side?