Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville said Monday that he foresees National Guard personnel being put into service as truck drivers to ease a national logjam in the shipment of commercial goods.
The remarks, which were something of a surprise even to the shipping executive whose question the senator was answering, came as Tuberville spoke at a Forum Alabama breakfast presented by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tuberville’s major talking points included a critical view of the Democratic infrastructure bill being considered by Congress, which he said devoted to little of its $3.5 trillion expense to actual infrastructure; rising tensions with China; the need for big government to get out of the way with its pandemic restrictions and to allow the nation to get back to work; and depiction of immigrants coming across the nation’s southern border as a disease-ridden, crime-prone rabble poised to overwhelm the healthcare and education systems.
He also took a few questions from those present.
“You talk about workforce availability, particularly about people going back to work,” asked Brian Harold, managing director of the APM Terminals container terminal at the Port of Mobile.
“I have to think that is by far the biggest problem in the supply-chain issues we have in this country. Do you see anything in the near term that the federal government will do to encourage people to get back to the work force, to help us get our warehouses moving again, to get trucking flowing, all those types of things?”
“You talking about wage-wise, you talking about financially?” asked Tuberville.
“Anything, whether it’s to do something or get out of the way,” said Harold. “If we can’t push cargo through our warehouses, and we can’t get truckers to move it, then people can’t pick up cargo in the port, so cargo that was sitting for three or four days is now sitting there for 15 to 20. When ports fill up, you can’t get shipping. It seems pretty basic.”
Tuberville’s answer looped through new taxes he said were in the infrastructure bill, to a hotly contested proposal from the administration of President Joe Biden that would require banks to report transactions over $600 to the IRS, to an allegation that Democrats had deliberately used pandemic-era relief programs and benefits to shrink the workforce in order to force wage increases.
“The IRS is going to have 100,000 new agents, and they’re coming after you,” Tuberville said. “This is not about the 1%, this is about knowing, this is about knowing everybody’s business. If you put $600 in the bank, or you spend $600, they’re going to know exactly where it’s going to go. They are pushing this. We thought we had it out, Nancy Pelosi doubled down. They want the IRS to be the Gestapo agents who basically go after your business. If we continue to do that, we won’t have any workers. People aren’t going to work.
“I think probably what’s going to have to happen is states are going to have to get involved with National Guard, the military, into transportation for a short period of time where we get back on our feet,” Tuberville continued. “But we can’t unload these container ships without trucks, without people to drive those trucks, and obviously the wages are going up, I think that’s a lot of what they wanted. This group wanted $15 an hour [minimum wage]. They couldn’t get it. So how to we get it? We force them. More jobs, people not working. Pay people, now you can force the prices up.
“There’s not a quick answer to it, other than the fact that we’re going to have to put people involved in transportation from our military,” Tuberville concluded. “I don’t know when that’ll happen, we’ll have to wait and see, you hear some of the states talking about that already. It needs to be free enterprise, people need to want to do it, and it’s going to be an interesting scenario as we go through the next year.”
Afterward, shipping executive Harbin said the possibility that military units might be used to move commercial goods was news to him.
It has been widely reported for some time that the nation’s biggest ports have queues of cargo ships lined up offshore, waiting for a chance to dock. Harbin said that while Mobile doesn’t have that problem, it has seen a slowdown in the rate at which incoming containers are picked up.
That’s not due to a problem at the port, he said, but to a problem moving goods to and through the warehouses that receive them. “I don’t see shortages of labor in ports,” he said. “We don’t have any shortages of labor here. What we see, and I think this is what we see at most ports, the amount of time that an import container used to dwell in the port facility, as compared to now is very different. The dwell time has gone up significantly. Where containers used to turn in three to four days, now they’re turning in 15 days.”
John Driscoll, the new director and CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority, has put an emphasis on the port’s intermodal operations, such as making more use of the port’s rail connections. Harbin said the impact already has been “huge,” but that rail shipments are running into some of the same problems.
“The connection to Chicago is tremendous, and we’re running trains consistently now to Chicago, with a lot of freight,” Harbin said. “Memphis and Chicago are our main two destinations.”
But the pipeline to Chicago has contracted. “We’re not allowed to send it up there as quickly,” he said. “There’s so much congestion. Where it used to be 200 [shipping containers] a week going, now they meter it to 50 a week, 60 a week, so we send it at a speed they can handle it.”
“The rail to Chicago is wide open,” he said, clarifying that congestion isn’t with the trains. The problem is in warehouses, and in the truck-based operations that carry cargo from warehouses to its final destination.
Tuberville touched on immigrants several times.
“We don’t vaccinate them when they come across the line. Most of them we don’t test when they come across the line in the pandemic. They’re bringing more things across than we can ever imagine,” he said. “It will affect Mobile, Alabama, in a very short period of time. Every one that comes across will cost us $50,000.”
He expanded on the theme after a question from County Commissioner Connie Hudson, who talked about the “frightening picture … of the crisis on the Southern border” he had painted and asked if they government had any plan to stem the flow of immigrants into Southern border states.
“Right now we’re just letting everybody in,” Tuberville said. “We don’t have an immigration police, which is called ICE, basically they’ve closed it down. They’ve tied their hands.” He said he supported a move to empower state and local agencies to address immigration.
“There’s at least two million who have come into our country, a lot of them we don’t know who they are, they’re coming from, they last time I saw, it was 87 different countries,” he said. “They’re not just coming from Mexico, they’re coming from the Middle East, they’re coming from India, obviously you’ve seen them now coming from Haiti. There’s a group of 90,000 that’s on its way up now from Panama … and we’re taking them, we’re taking them in cities all across America. I was in Birmingham the other day, where they bring busloads to Birmingham, and we don’t know what they’re doing. They won’t give us any idea of the future for them.”
“Our crime is bad enough,” he said, saying no path forward was being provided for the influx. “If you get hungry and you’re here and don’t get a job, you can’t get a job, you don’t have a Social Security number, you’re going to find a way to eat. You’re gon’ eat. You can’t blame these people for coming here, us turning them loose, and not giving them the opportunity to make a living. I do not understand what they’re trying to do.”
“We can’t continue to take them at this rate,” he said. “Uneducated, they don’t have any money, they don’t speak our language, they’ve never been to school, so they’re going to be jammed into our schools and our hospitals and we’re going to be over-exposed in those two areas.”
One notable prediction in Tuberville’s speech was a prediction that Mobile is poised to outdo Huntsville’s explosive growth.
“One thing I will tell you, in this area right here there’s going to be more growth, probably, than in any other part of the state, maybe in any other part of the South,” he said. “That’s the reason it’s so important for there to be a game plan, just by itself, just for this area, just for the two counties, Mobile and Baldwin county.”
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