The Jones Act is absolutely the backbone of both American maritime law, and the American shipping & shipbuilding industries. Nearly every aspect of American maritime law is affected by the Jones Act, from requiring American vessels to be used to transport goods within American waters, to requiring American shipbuilding operations be kept at home, to covering any injured worker in the event of an on-the-job accident, illness, or injury.
And yet despite all the good the Jones Act does for maritime workers, it’s seen its fair share of opponents over the years, all attempting to repeal or alter the text of the Act – often to the detriment of American jobs and workers. These opponents argue that the Jones Act makes interior trade more difficult and expensive, focusing – as always – on the bottom lines and profit margins as opposed to the thousands of workers whose jobs and livelihoods are defended by the Act. Even as recently as 2016, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum were gnashing their teeth and calling for the Act to be severely altered or flat-out repealed.
Luckily, not everyone working for the Government is calling for the destruction of the Jones Act, and in fact many major Cabinet nominees have recently spoken out in its favor and have declared their intentions to keep the Act alive. A nominee for the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, recently made clear his feelings towards the Jones Act, calling it “useful in continuing US shipbuilding” during his Senate confirmation hearings, going on to refer to the Jones Act as “a fact” and stating that he had “never voiced any opposition to it”, including during his time spent as an owner of several major tankers under companies like Diamond S Shipping.
Seconding this support of the Act was US Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao, a former Deputy Transportation Secretary who is currently seeking the position. During her Senate hearing, Chao had referred to the Jones Act as “…the law of the land” and stated that “it will be obeyed” unless a series of major Congress bills pass to change it.
This sort of stance is good news for American maritime workers. Even with a long history of maritime lawyers and the Jones Act benefitting and aiding seamen, crewmen, and more, the Act will always face opposition from those putting profit ahead of people. If Chao and Ross receive their positions, we can rest knowing they will do everything in their power to defend and uphold the Jones Act to the benefit of seamen all over the country. Time will tell how their nominations will pan out, but for now we can only wait – and hope.