ULLCO Opposes Three Bills Impacting Workers in the Port Houston

The United Labor Legislative Committee today OPPOSED three bills addressing regulation of ship pilots and the movement of container ships that could have a major impact on working people in the Port of Houston. The Seafarers Union and International Longshoremen’s Association strongly oppose the pilot bills but have said they can support a fair compromise on ship traffic that would benefit all stakeholders.

The bills are SBs 2222 and 2223 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, and SB 1915 by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. SB 2222 and, in a somewhat different format, SB 1915 are the pilots bills; SB 2223 would restrict the movement of container ships.

ULLCO believes the bills would have unintended consequences. Pilots are the key to regulation of the ports. The attempt to move regulation of the pilots to a new body would upset a 100-year legacy of safety that hinges on the proven judgment and discretion of pilots. 

Restricting the movement of container ships would amount to state regulation of a federal waterway, which is unlikely to stand up in court. In addition, such restrictions may well encourage shippers to use other ports, harming the Texas economy. The larger problem is one of infrastructure.  The Houston Ship Channel needs to be deepened and widened to accommodate modern ship traffic, but the project has been put off because of its cost (an estimated $1 billion) and other factors that are slowing infrastructure improvements everywhere. 

Stakes for working families are high. The Port of Houston is a financial success, with double-digit growth in revenue in recent years. Jobs at the Port of Houston are highly unionized (pilots at a level of about 95 percent) and set a middle-class standard for working people throughout the region. The pilots are a diverse workforce – upward mobility toward the jobs is similar to the career path of building trades apprentices who go on to become master craftspeople – and they have a record of safety second to none. 

SB 1915 and SB 2223 have already passed the Senate and have been referred to the House Transportation Committee. SB 2222 remains in the Senate at this time.