Letter: Stop outsourcing ship recycling jobs

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, tens of millions of federal dollars were spent on workforce development programs in Louisiana and Texas. Sadly, program graduates lost job opportunities when the federal government also decided to outsource ship recycling jobs to the beaches of Asia. The administration’s job-loss policy was challenged this summer, but unfortunately, it continues unabated today.

When no longer productive, ships are dismantled and the metal recycled. In the U.S., ship recycling is highly regulated and provides good jobs in some of the poorest areas of the United States. A local company, Southern Recycling, has four ship recycling facilities in Louisiana, from the Lower 9th Ward to Calcasieu, as well as Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Halfway across the world, shipbreakers, operating without regulation on tidal beaches, force their workers to take apart the ships, including those from the United States, by hand. The workers are treated like chattel, denied safety equipment or specialized training, and paid negligible wages. Since the beginning of the year, dozens of workers have died, and yet, the U.S. government is allowing U.S. ships to be scrapped in conditions that would never be acceptable in our country.

The U.S. Maritime Administration could stop this environmental and human rights atrocity. Its statutory mission is to promote the U.S. maritime industry, and ship recycling is an integral part of that industry. Nope. MARAD employees have spent the past several years working to legitimatize breaking even more vessels on the Indian Ocean beaches. Recently, domestic ship recycling facilities asked MARAD to stop the flow of U.S. ship recycling jobs overseas. No, MARAD replied, the poor people over there need work.

As the former MARAD chief counsel, I am extremely puzzled by the agency’s refusal to support Gulf Coast jobs. Why is the government spending millions to educate workers if not to find jobs? Similarly, why is it supporting human rights and environmental abuses overseas instead of a capable domestic industry that feeds the domestic steel industry?

If MARAD won’t stop this job-loss policy, Congress can. This is not a partisan issue. It’s one that impacts everyone, regardless of party affiliation. Congress members from Louisiana and Texas can remind MARAD that its mission is to support the U.S. maritime industry and, therefore, U.S. jobs. Tilting the playing field against U.S. companies does not grow U.S. jobs. Rather, it ensures that a greater number of individuals remain on the unemployment rolls.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp

former chief counsel, U.S. Maritime Administration

Washington, D.C.