There has been considerable discussion in the media regarding the supply chain for products in the United States, particularly in coastal states like Rhode Island where many workers earn their living in the shipping industry. One of the potential reasons that shipping company management officials claim unloading ships has been impeded is the many rules and regulations associated with the Jones Act. However, the Jones Act is vital for merchant marine workers, and there may be an ulterior motive for the repealing of the Jones Act that some are advocating.
What is the Jones Act?
The Jones Act was enacted in 1920 to ensure that all work performed in U.S. ports was done by Americans and unloaded from American ships. These types of Jones Act issues have led to a significant delay in unloading cargo. In addition to operational requirements for ships in port, the legislation also provided a workers’ compensation employment benefit for shipping industry employees who qualify as Jones Act workers.
The problem with repealing the Jones Act
While commercial movement restrictions can be Jones Act obstacles for shippers when transporting goods, the security and protection the law provides is essential for keeping U.S. ports safe as well as protecting maritime workers who are injured on the job. Land-based employers are exempt from personal injury lawsuits from injured workers per workers’ comp insurance rules as long as they are not negligent in an injury case or non-compliant with any OSHA requirements. Maritime shippers are not exempt per the Jones Act.
While repealing the Jones Act could potentially alleviate container congestion in the ports, the workers’ union is vehemently opposed to repealing the Jones Act because injured workers can currently file a lawsuit for long-term general damages when they are injured on the job. Any repeal could potentially eliminate this personal injury protection for workers if the law is changed to a workers’ compensation plan.