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Ports Primer: 6.1 Local Economy and Jobs

Link to Home Page of Ports Primer for Communities   Link to Section 2, The Role of Ports   Link to Section 3, How Ports Work   Link to Section 4, Port-Community Relations   Link to Section 5.0, Land Use and Transportation   Link to Section 6, Local and Regional Economy   Link to Section 7, Environmental Impacts   Link to Section 8, Tools and Resources   Link to Section 9, Appendix   Link to Glossary for Ports Primer   Link to Endnotes for Ports Primer
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The port sector contributes significantly to the local economy in communities where ports are located. Contributions include:

  • Employment opportunities at the port
  • Employment opportunities in port-related sectors (e.g. the rail and trucking industries)
  • Increased tax base for the local and state government

At some ports, workers are members of labor unionsHelplabor unionAn organization of workers formed to serve members’ collective interests with regard to wages and working conditions. that advocate on their behalf and may establish terms related to hiring, wages and advancement.

There are jobs in the industry that include responsibilities for worker safety. For more information: OSHA Maritime Industry

Cargo Handling Employment Opportunities

CargoHelpCargoThe freight (goods, products) carried by a ship, barge, train, truck or plane.-handling jobs are often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of employment opportunities at ports. A few of the jobs related to cargo-handling are listed below:1

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Additional Port-Related Employment Opportunities

Ports also offer jobs in many areas beyond cargo-handling, including:

Furthermore, ports indirectly support the creation of jobs in port-related sectors such as transportation, distribution and supply chain management. For example, truckHelptrucksHeavy automotive vehicles used to transport cargo. In the maritime industry, cargo is often carried by tractor-trailers. The tractor is the front part of the vehicle, also called a cab. The trailer is the detachable wheeled chassis behind the tractor, on which containers or other cargoes are placed. drivers who service port facilities play a vital role in moving goods from containers coming into the port to interim locations or to their final destinations.

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Worker Classifications

A photograph of the cover of The Big Rig Overhaul publication.Whether a worker is classified as an employee or an independent contractor can have a significant impact on the quality of working conditions, compensation and labor protections. According to the 2014 report The Big Rig Overhaul: Restoring Middle-Class Jobs at America’s Ports through Labor Law Enforcement, 49,000 of the nation’s 75,000 port truck drivers are misclassified as independent contractors.2 The report explores the implications of misclassification and addresses questions about fair pay, workers compensation and federal tax payment.

For more information: The Big Rig Overhaul (PDF) (49 pp, 2.7 MB, About PDFExit


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Labor Unions, Workers and Ports

A photograph of a hard hat and work gloves.Many ports have labor unions that negotiate on behalf of members for better wages and working conditions. These unions can have powerful voices in port decision-making processes. During negotiations, they can employ tactics such as strikes or other job actions, which can significantly impact port operations.

MaritimeHelpMaritimeLocated on or near the sea. Commerce or navigation by sea. The maritime industry includes people working for transportation (ship, rail, truck and towboat/barge) companies, freight forwarders and customs brokers; stevedoring companies; labor unions; chandlers; warehouses; ship building and repair firms; importers/exporters; pilot associations, etc. labor agreements (especially when disputes arise) between unions, shipping lines, and terminal operators can greatly influence numerous issues impacting workers, nearby communities, and business owners and consumers nationwide, such as:

  • Workforce benefits and wages
  • Worker safety
  • Port security
  • Public health and environmental concerns

Recent union concerns have included:3

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The Impact of Port Labor/Management Disputes on Port-Related Jobs

A photograph of two men standing in front of a truck.Dynamics between labor unions and port authorities are not isolated. Their complex dynamics can easily have a broad ripple effect and impact workers and businesses in port-related sectors. In severe instances, the impact can extend beyond the immediately affected region.

For example, port truck drivers who operate as independent contractors are paid based on each run they make and are responsible for the maintenance and operating expenses of their trucks. When shipments and loading/unloading of vesselHelpvesselA ship or large boat.s slow down significantly due to labor disputes, these truck drivers don’t get paid. In addition, the resulting congestion at ports adversely impacts near-port communities and businesses.

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