On March 23, the Prevent Labor Union Slowdowns Act (PLUS) was introduced to the U.S. Senate aimed at preventing labor union slowdowns at ports.
Per Senator Risch Press Release:
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), David Perdue (R-GA), and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Prevent Labor Union Slowdowns Act (PLUS), legislation that would protect local businesses and ensure they can continue importing and exporting goods during maritime labor union disputes. As a recent contract negotiation tactic, maritime labor unions have been involved in “slowing down” instead of striking, which causes substantial financial loss to local businesses that are attempting to import and export goods. The PLUS Act would help prevent this damage by changing the National Labor Relations Act, defining a labor slowdown by maritime workers as an unfair labor practice.
“Local businesses in Idaho have experienced significant financial loss due to labor union disputes beyond their control,” said Senator Risch. “By qualifying the ‘slowdown’ tactic as an unfair labor practice, this bill will ensure businesses can continue to import and export their goods regardless of these disputes.”
“Idaho farmers, ranchers, producers and manufacturers suffered significant losses due to the west coast port slowdown in late 2014. This practice was unfair and dangerous, having immediate effects on Idaho businesses and potentially impacting the competitiveness of Idaho commodities globally for years to come,” said Senator Crapo, Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “This bill will enable Idaho’s business community to remain competitive when faced with labor disputes outside the state and out of our control.”
The “slowdown” method is detrimental to port managers because remuneration for full benefits and salaries is required, and replacing or firing employees cannot occur. In addition, since a slowdown is currently restricted from classification as an unfair labor practice under federal labor law, port managers lack the power to call in an order from an arbiter during contract negotiations directing workers to work at a normal pace. These disputes have resulted in both shipping companies and port managers terminating their contracts to service individual ports. The U.S. Potato Board estimates that in 2015, west coast slowdowns caused massive financial damage to the food industry, including a $50 million loss to the Idaho potato industry. Other estimates include $70 million in wasted fruit in Washington, and $40 million per week loss in meat sales.
The PLUS Act would change the National Labor Relations Act, defining a labor slowdown by maritime workers as an unfair labor practice. This legislation allows injured parties to file civil actions in federal court to seek double augmented damages resulting from slowdowns, as well as recover their attorney and expert witness fees and costs.