Douglas Holtz-Eakin takes on a tough topic in his column: workers unions. 

He discusses the impact of “chronic union problems” such as slowdowns, shutdowns, and other disruptions to the productivity of the union longshoremen. His lead is loaded, reading:

Once again, ports on the West Coast are being held hostage by union longshoremen, with potential to harm average Americans, the U.S. economy and U.S. military personnel overseas who may not receive needed supplies in time. 

Holtz-Eakin first makes it clear with this statement that it is an ongoing and continuing problem, if the readers were not already aware, and claims that this issue poses threat to not only the American people, but the US economy and military. My first read of this sentence left me thinking it to be rather conservative and rather dramatic…I kept reading.

Though I was apprehensive about the subject matter and weary of bias that may be lurking further in the column, my opinion was slightly swayed once I read the final sentence of the first paragraph:

After decades of union work slowdowns and other disruptions, Congress has a chance to limit future damage by bringing longshoremen under the same law that protects the rights of many workers and employers in transportation industries.

I no longer feared that Holtz-Eakin was sillily proposing a do-away with the union, and realized that he was presenting a practical and almost justified solution to a persistent issue. Thus, the first paragraph— in my humble opinion— was quite nicely put together. I had already been persuaded through the writer’s outlining of the issue to continue reading and listen to what he had to say. 

I must say, he really knows who his readers are. 

Holtz-Eakin asserts: “Retailers face delays getting inventories for holiday shopping, crops are rotting while waiting for export, and no relief is in sight.” These are the two staples of American economy, retail consumer-based businesses and agriculture. After reading this, I realized that this is a viable topic, especially this time of year when Americans industries typically hit their annual peek performance, if this were to be affected by the slow-moving West coast ports, it could be potentially devastating for the economy.

The The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and opposing Pacific Maritime Association have apparently been at odds for quite some time. Holtz-Eakin provides evidence for this in the form of President George W. Bush; he tells, in his column, that in 2002 Bush, as president, had to “invoke his powers under the Taft-Hartley Act to get the ports open, and ordered the longshoreman back to work.” He continues with more factual evidence: “The same sort of disruptive tactics played out in 1999 and in negotiations dating to the 1970s.” Most Americans reading this column would, like me, think back to how long it has been now since George W. Bush was in office, not to mention his first term. This is an easy way to show people how long this has been an issue, and the incorporation of further examples from even earlier heightens it more. 

The Pacific Maritime Association recently “accused the union of deliberately slowing work at the critical California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as at other ports up and down the coast.” This, in Hotlz-Eakin’s opinion, is potential enough for a shut down that alternative tactics must be assessed. While I don’t personally believe this is indicative of a shutdown, as he even states: 

The National Mediation Board, which oversees the process [of Federal mediation], says that 99% of all of its mediation cases since 1980 have been handled without interruption. 

Holtz-Eakin speaks in great detail about the necessity of ports for things such as military weapons and consumer goods, he even argues that they are a financial staple. This is what truly formulates his argument. Like port-workers, railroad and airline employees are also protected by agencies. He states

Modern commerce doesn’t face a similar threat when airline pilots fail to reach a contract agreement. Nor is it disrupted when rail personnel find themselves unable to come to terms with railroads. Instead, those negotiations are conducted according to the Railway Labor Act.

He is obviously, then, advocating for Federal oversight of this industry instead of private unions. Holtz-Eakin even says: : “Why not put the ports under the Railway Labor Act and extend to shipping the protections that adequately safeguard our nation’s airlines and railroads?”

I think this column was definitely pushed for publication because it is a firmly conservative argument, but I must say I spy no bias in it. Yes, the language may often appear to accuse liberal policy of being inadequate, but this is Holtz-Eakin’s style, apparently. He always backs up his snappy comments with facts. Though this may not be the nicest way to write, it’s not dirty either.

 

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