New bill seeks to limit union power in light of US West Coast strikes

New Bill seeks to limit union power in light of West Coast strikes

A new bill presented at the US Senate is set to limit the powers of labour workers in wake of the supply chain issues triggered by the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU)’s operational stoppages.

Spearheaded by Idaho Republican Senator, Jim Risch, the bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, reported CNBC.

The legislation aims to deter the possibility of future labour slowdowns and prohibits labour organisations, like the ILWU, from blocking the modernisation of ports.

Co-sponsored by Senator Ted Budd and Senator Mike Crapo, the bill aims to redefine union-organised labour slowdowns as malpractice.

The proposed bill includes a provision that specifies the conditions for payable damages in cases where union workers breach the law through labour disruptions.

According to the bill, these damages could amount to up to twice the actual damage caused by their actions.

READ: Shipping companies feel impact of US West Coast strikes

The legislation, which was reviewed by CNBC, states: “Deliberate and unprotected labour slowdowns or impediments to modernisation at the ports have led to substantial supply chain and economic disruptions.

“Such frequent and periodic disruptions to commerce in the maritime industry hurt the reputation of the United States in the global economy.”

As read in the bill, union-organised labour disruptions posed a “burgeoning threat to the financial health and economic stability of the United States”.

According to CNBC, Senator Risch has previously attempted to pass bills of similar effect, albeit without legislative success; this bill distinctively would add a provision that targets any efforts by labour organisations blocking the modernisation of ports.

As per Senator Crapo’s statement, combating such union-imposed labour stoppages is “best for maritime workers and their livelihoods while allowing companies to compete in a modern marketplace”.

READ: ILWU contract promises 32 per cent pay rise and $70 million pandemic bonus

The recent strikes at West Coast ports could prove to be the final straw before substantial change is crystallised in writing.

During these strikes, the Union Pacific had to halt US exports moving into the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach due to a lack of specialised rail workers, CNBC reported.

Additionally, due to a reportedly intentional slow down of work, the Port of Seattle released labour workers who were assigned at its SSA terminal every day for a week to remove containers off vessels.

These union-devised measures consequently left cargo worth an accumulated $5.2 billion backlogged at West Coast ports.

Moreover, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, serious work stoppages at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were estimated to cost the US economy up to half a billion dollars a day.

This estimation rose to $1 billion per day for more widespread disruption across the West Coast.

READ: Dwell times spike amid US West Coast ports disruptions

Despite the year-long contractual deadlock between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and ILWU, a tentative agreement was arrived at earlier in June that brought an end to the ongoing strike action at the West Coast.

The deal was expedited with the help of President Biden’s acting Labor Secretary, Julie Su, who Risch, among 31 other Senators, opposed Su’s nomination of becoming the Labor Secretary, based on a track record that saw several operational disturbances materialise under her watch, reported CNBC.

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