The nation's largest federation of labor unions on Friday warned against repealing a century-old shipping law, saying that doing so would decimate the domestic shipping industry and cost jobs.
In a letter to senators, the AFL-CIO said that repealing the Jones Act would open up the U.S. maritime industry to low-wage foreign workers and weaken the country's ability to respond independently to crises and disasters.
“Since the Jones Act ensures that our labor laws protect maritime employees, repealing the Act would pave the way for foreign companies to replace domestic crews with lower paid workers lacking basic labor protections,” William Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s government affairs director, wrote in the letter.
“Repealing the Jones Act would not result in additional supplies getting to the Island, but it would jeopardize the survival of the U.S. maritime sector and along with it thousands of jobs that would be outsourced to foreign carriers,” he added.
The debate over whether to repeal the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that passengers and cargo going between domestic ports be transported by U.S.-flagged ships, reignited last month as the federal government responded to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The Trump administration announced on Sept. 28 that it would temporarily waive the shipping law, which officials in Puerto Rico said was hindering much-needed aid and supplies from reaching the island. The waiver came as the Trump administration faced mounting pressure to step up its relief efforts on the island.
The waiver, which stayed in effect for 10 days, expired on Sunday. The Department of Homeland Security has said that it will not renew the exemption.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda MORE (R-Ariz.) and some other members of Congress have called for repealing the Jones Act since the storm.
The AFL-CIO, however, said that it was not the Jones Act that was preventing aid from reaching Puerto Rico. Jones Act ships carrying supplies began arriving at Puerto Rico’s main port in San Juan as soon as it reopened, Samuel wrote. He argued the larger issue was a lack of truck drivers and badly damaged infrastructure.
Puerto Rico has become the site of a staggering humanitarian crisis that resulted from twin hurricanes pummeling the island within a matter of weeks. Hurricane Maria, the most recent storm to strike the U.S. territory, wiped out electrical power, destroyed buildings and infrastructure and left much of the island without access to drinking water.
As of Friday morning, only 9 percent of the island’s residents had electricity, and about 63 percent had access to drinking water, according to a website maintained by Puerto Rico’s government.
President Trump has taken heat for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, with critics accusing him of handling the situation less aggressively than he handled hurricane-related emergencies in Texas and Florida.
The president has defended the efforts in Puerto Rico, though he has also suggested that the island has relied too heavily on federal assistance and has not done enough to help itself. On Thursday, he warned in a tweet that he would not keep emergency workers there “forever.”
“What is needed now is for the U.S. military and FEMA to deploy all of their available resources to address the escalating humanitarian crisis,” Samuel wrote, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been directing the U.S. government's response to the crisis. “Our fellow citizens on Puerto Rico deserve no less.”