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.