Waterfront Employers Call for Federal Support During COVID-19 Shutdown

Terminal gate at PortMiami, March 17. PortMiami's SFCT and POMTOC container terminals have seen traffic fall due to the pandemic (PortMiami)

Published Mar 20, 2020 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The National Association of Waterfront Employers (NAWE) is calling on the Trump Administration to provide emergency support for ports and terminal operators, including priority access to testing and protective gear for waterfront workers. 

NAWE believes that the port workforce - including terminal operators, longshore workers, federal and port authority employees, members of the Coast Guard and customs officers - must be treated as essential workers during the government’s response to the crisis. 

"Uniformed and non-uniformed persons of Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Coast Guard are important parts of the commercial activity that takes place in our ports and on our terminals. They should be assured of having the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and being excepted from blanket stay-at-home orders," said NAWE President Lauren K. Brand in an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. "It is imperative that the port workers be treated as part of the priority workforce and be properly supplied. The Port of Houston was forced to close for a time after a waterfront worker tested positive."

Brand also called on the federal government to ensure that American ports and related infrastructure stays open in order to avoid clogging up the nation's supply chains. Without port operations, American goods cannot be shipped and imports cannot arrive, and this would have a negative effect on the economy in a time of crisis. Drayage service reductions - like those experienced in China last month - would have a similar bottleneck effect. "As bottlenecks develop, or as virus cases in key facilities become known, responsive measures must be taken quickly to properly address those situations," Brand wrote. 

The White House is currently negotiating a large-scale stimulus package with the House and Senate, and NAWE advocates for support for port and marine terminal operations within that bill. 31 million jobs are supported by the marine terminal and stevedoring industry, and many waterfront companies - especially the stevedoring companies that serve the cruise industry - need support to weather the downturn. "All affected marine terminal operator and stevedoring companies, whether they work on cargo or cruise, should be eligible for assistance that is extended to others in the business community, including accessibility to zero interest loans," Brand said. 

The call for financial assistance for seaports has backing in Congress. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) has called for including emergency funding for port operations in any stimulus package in order to speed economic recovery on the far side of the shutdown. "Without stopgap measures to safeguard and support our maritime sector, including specific financial assistance to seaports, the economy will take longer to recover post-emergency.  Downstream impacts will include shipping, transportation, and tourism," wrote Crist in a letter to House leadership. Other members of Florida's congressional delegation have also pledged their support for seaports, including Representatives Federica Wilson, Ted Yoho, Bill Posey and Lois Frankel.