This week, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., introduced the “Protecting Orderly and Responsible Transit of Shipments (PORTS) Act” (S. 1519) to safeguard the economy from the threat of labor shutdowns and slowdowns at the nation’s ports. Legislation introduced by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., (S. 1298) would collect metrics of port marine terminal productivity, which would serve as an early warning system for determining when ports stop operating normally and for when the federal government needs to step in to protect the economy. The National Pork Producers Council supports both measures.

Gardner’s bill, cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would discourage disruptions at ports and incentivize speedy resolution of disputes between union dock workers and facilities owners by strengthening and expanding provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act, which was enacted in 1947 to protect the rights of employees and employers and to promote the flow of commerce. Under the PORTS Act, governors would get Taft-Hartley powers currently reserved for the president, including the ability to convene a board of inquiry whenever a port labor dispute causes economic harm and to petition federal courts to enjoin slowdowns, strikes or lockouts at ports in their states.

The bill was introduced in response to the recent work slowdowns at West Coast ports this spring. The months’ long labor dispute between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which represents companies that own West Coast ports, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents dock workers, cost the U.S. meat and poultry sectors an estimated $40 million a week. The U.S. pork industry, which currently exports 27 percent of total production annually – with exports expected to continue to increase – is increasingly dependent on an efficiently functioning infrastructure, including the ports system. NPPC and other trade associations whose members were affected by the ports slowdown met with port officials and others to discuss steps to avoid a repeat of the situation, including improving efficiency, logistics and mechanization at the shipping facilities.