Supporting the Seafarers’ International Union of North America & the United States’ Jones Act

December 18, 2017

The SIU of Canada supports and strongly advocates for maritime Cabotage Law in Canada. We therefore also support the continued implementation and protection of the Jones Act in the United States.


The Jones Act is the law that implements Cabotage in the United States. Canada protects its maritime cabotage activities chiefly through the Coasting Trade Act. Under Canada’s Coasting Trade Act, the movement of passengers or goods between two Ports in Canada is reserved for Canadian flagged and Canadian crewed vessels, with very few exceptions. The Coasting Trade Act is the Canadian equivalent of the Jones Act.


The Jones Act is an exemplary model on which the United States has built and protected their maritime industry and goes a step further than the Coasting Trade Act by including a provision that requires all vessels operating Cabotage in the United States to be American-built as well.


The Jones Act is a strong, all-encompassing piece of maritime legislation through which our Brothers and Sisters in the Seafarers International Union of North America (SIUNA) have used to help bolster their industry and protect American seafaring jobs.  We encourage the U.S. government to remain committed to the Jones Act to protect the jobs and rights of seafarers, and the marine industry overall.


What is the Jones Act?


The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, was designed to create a safe network of merchant mariners within the United States after World War I. The Jones Act requires that all goods shipped from one American port to another must be transported on an American built, American owned, American flagged and American crewed ship. Effectively, the Jones Act implements cabotage in the United States. Cabotage, also known as “coastal trading,” is the commercial transport of goods or passengers between two places located within a nation state.


The overall goal of this legislation is to ensure national security by providing fleet capacity and manpower that the U.S. armed forces can draw upon to support military operations as well as support the overall U.S. maritime industry and the 500,000 American jobs it provides. The Jones Act ensures a strong and vibrant maritime industry, which helps ensure the United States maintains its expertise in shipbuilding and waterborne transportation. The law also requires all U.S. ships to obey U.S. labour laws to protect maritime employees and ensures vessels abide by the Environment Protection Agency’s regulations.


Why do Unions and Shipping Companies like the Jones Act?


Strong American Unions like our affiliate Union SIUNA, are better positioned to fight for their members when government legislation is in place to support their industry. American shipping companies are also better positioned to invest in and support maritime jobs secured through the Jones Act and because of support from both labor and industry members, the Jones Act helps drive the U.S. maritime industry forward.


The Seafarers’ International Union of North America, with the backing of the protections found within the Jones Act, ensures better protections for American maritime employees who may otherwise be replaced by foreign workers with much lower wages and significantly poorer working and labor conditions. With strong support from both the Republican and Democrat sides of the U.S. government, and long-advocated in favor of by U.S. maritime labour including the united voice of the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, the Jones Act is a vital component to America’s strong maritime industry.


Misguided Attempts to Repeal the Jones Act


Supporters of America’s freight Cabotage law are continuing to fight back against false accusations concerning the Jones Act.


SIUNA and many of its allies recently took action to dispel the myths created in the American media that the Jones Act was hampering recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September. The AFL-CIO responded to critics of the Jones Act, who were using the disaster for political opportunity, to reaffirm the American maritime industry’s ability and commitment to aiding Puerto Rico during the recovery period.


The Jones Act in no way impeded delivery of supplies to Puerto Rico and fully loaded American ships, proudly crewed by SIUNA members, began arriving to the island as soon as the main port in Puerto Rico reopened. Just as accusations that the Jones Act was slowing recovery efforts were baseless, so too, are the accusations that the Jones Act drives up costs on the island. Multiple U.S. government departments have studied this issue and found no evidence that the Jones Act increases expenses in Puerto Rico, and in fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in an unbiased and non-partisan study, concluded that the Jones Act has helped ensure reliable shipping service between the island and the continental U.S. is maintained.


In addition, despite what some interest groups and some U.S. officials like Senator John McCain would have the public believe, Puerto Rico receives Jones Act shipping service that is cheaper, more regular and more reliable than foreign shipping rates and service to the Jones Act-exempt U.S. Virgin Islands, where consumer rates are also significantly higher. Foreign flagged vessels with cargo from ports outside the United States are, and always have been, allowed entry to Puerto Rico.


The SIU strongly supports our brothers and sisters in the United States who continue to fight for their cabotage laws and dispel the unfounded accusations against the Jones Act that would only serve to harm the global maritime industry and all seafarers worldwide. We are proud of their work defending American seafarers and proud to stand up and fight back together for all seafarers worldwide. As always, we are stronger together.