The longshoremen are threatening to strike in all the major ports in the United States. Business groups are appealing to President Obama to "cool off" the strike -- meaning to suspend it unilaterally and order people to work -- under the Taft-Hartley Act.
The disagreement has worried scores of business groups because of the sheer number of workers and ports involved. The union represents 14,500 workers at more than a dozen ports extending south from Boston and handling 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth.The looming strike puts President Obama in a tough spot. He has long called for more unionism, and has appointed very pro-union regulators to the National Labor Relations Board. But this is just about the last thing the economy needs. Which, I daresay, is why the longshoremen have picked this moment to strike -- their leverage goes up the weaker the rest of us are. And President Obama also knows this: If the longshoremen do strike and it pushes the economy over the cliff, it will be much harder for President Obama to put responsibility for the imminent recession on the Republicans.
The New York-New Jersey ports handle the most cargo on the East Coast, valued at $208 billion last year. The other ports that would be affected by a strike are Boston; Delaware River; Baltimore; Hampton Roads, Va.; Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Port Everglades, Fla.; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; and Houston.
Florida Gov. Scott recently wrote a letter to Obama warning of the "devastating" impact a strike would have on his state, where cargo-related activity "generates more than 550,000 direct and indirect jobs." He also recalled how, in 2002, "tons of perishable cargo were destroyed" in the West Coast lockout.
He, along with groups like the National Retail Federation, want Obama to use his powers under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act to try and prevent a strike....
The dispute and threatened strike come at a particularly vulnerable time for the U.S. economy. Roughly $110 billion in spending cuts are set to take effect starting in January if Congress cannot come up with an alternative plan. On top of that are more than $500 billion in scheduled tax hikes, which Washington also has not yet been able to reduce.
I say let the strike happen. Let the whole country watch one union make life miserable for hundreds of millions. It would be very clarifying.