There is a very disturbing, yet very accurate piece in the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page this morning about Port Security. The article is titled On the Waterfront — Still after the 1950’s Marlon Brando movie which tells a story about corrupt union activity on the docks.
Now I am on and off various terminals here in the Southeast every day as I have been for over 10 years. My maritime related background goes back nearly 20 years. And the WSJ has hit a nerve. Go ahead and read the article if you want a better understanding of one of the biggest reasons our ports security is still so very lax.
It has been common knowledge that there are some very unsavory folks with felonious records filling out the Longshoremen ranks. Don’t get me wrong, there are a great many Longshore union members who are hard working, above board, contentious, ethical patriots. (Yes some of them actually do work hard.)
Over the years I’ve heard tons of stories about stabbings, shootings perpetrated by the labor force both on the docks and out in town. The most memorable was the story about the longshoremen who supposedly carried a duffel bag on the job that he wouldn’t let anyone look in. Finally it turned out that he’d been carrying around his ex-wife’s head in the bag for days. Don’t know if it was true or not, but at least that story ended with the guy getting escorted off the port by the police. And I could see it happening.
Some operations I’ve seen were notorious for their pilferage, which is a fancy word for stealing. Usually is it is rationalized with the phrase, “Well, everyone is doing it.” No everyone isn’t.
And it is not unusual for a regular worker to disappear for several months, or maybe a few years while he takes a break at the county or state facilities because of drugs, or an assault, or robbery, or shooting (whatever) only to be right back on the docks when he’s served his time.
Now some will argue that a man shouldn’t be double punished by losing his livelihood just because he made a mistake. I am not unsympathetic to their point. However when it comes to security, past behavior is a pretty strong indicator of future risk. And I’m not so sure the WSJ gets the risk exactly right. I don’t think that even a felonious Longshoreman would knowingly agree to turn a blind eye to a cargo of plutonium. However I could see one taking a cash payment to “not ask any questions” about the particular cargo being smuggled in and do it unknowingly as a result.
The WSJ article points to a huge problem with the security of our ports: the power of the unions. The unions are actively lobbying against common sense security measures because they know it would create problems for large portions of their membership keeping their jobs. These felonious members pay their union dues compliantly and therefore their union bosses lobby hard and effectively to protect their jobs.
It is unconscionable that, more than 5 years after 9-11 we still do not have a national transit worker ID card. The government truly has no idea who is really working at our ports. For all we know, someone on the terrorist watch list may be at one of our ports today. And the only reason we don’t have an ID card system in place is because the unions don’t want the government doing background checks on their membership and bringing to light how large a percentage of their membership, the people actually present in the daily handling of our nation’s cargo, are actually convicted felons.
Instead we have a bizarre system where every individual terminal is responsible for creating their own security system. Some terminals have decent security. But more often it is a joke with the protection of our country being assigned to a $7 an hour “security guard” who often times is either too old, or too obese to actually offer any protection more strenuous than writing a name on a list of paper.
As a result of the current non-system, those of us who routinely go to multiple terminals (and I can think of 11 different terminals off the top of my head on the Savannah River alone) are forced to carry a stack of different ID cards for each of the different terminals. And the problem is even worse for the truck drivers who haul the containers around the country. For them, it’s like shuffling through a deck of cards in their truck to find the right ID each time they pull a container up to a different terminal.
Meanwhile the politicians keep passing bills with fancy sounding names to pacify the uninformed public into believing that port security is actually being improved. It sounds like they are actually doing something to help keep our nation safe. But really they are trying to convince us that naked emperor is really wearing beautiful clothes while they handicap the very folks they are bringing into the Department of Homeland Security to protect us by caving to the pressure of the unions.
Unfortunately, absent of any political leadership with the fortitude to stand up to the unions on this issue, it is going to take a 9-11 level event at our ports to shake our government into any action to seriously protect our ports.
And when the big one finally happens they will respond in their typical close-the-barn-door-behind-the-horse fashion by shutting down all port activity for days while they scramble to figure out what to do. If you think there was a recession and it was hard on our economy after 9-11 when passenger airline traffic was halted for a few days I have something to tell you.
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Update: Michelle Malkin also notes the problem of Felons in Our Ports and how the problem is damaging to Homeland Security.
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