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APM wins, yet again, approval on Pier 400 automation project

Largest marine terminal in North America gets another okay for new cargo handling equipment.

(Photo: APM Terminals)

Maersk, for the second time, was granted a permit by the Port of Los Angeles that would allow its APM Terminals subsidiary to install infrastructure for electrified, automated container handling equipment.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted three-to-two against an appeal by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13, which opposes the move due to the loss of yard driver positions for registered and casual longshore workers. 

The vote mirrored a June 22 meeting where the same board members voted on whether to support or deny the ILWU’s appeal. APM won that vote, but a subsequent vote by the Los Angeles City Council to overturn that approval kicked it back to the Board of Harbor Commissioners for the new vote.

The second vote marks the end of a 16-month permitting process APM went through at the Port of Los Angeles to install electric charging stations, fencing, scaffolding and antennas. The infrastructure is needed to support up to 130 hybrid-electric automated straddle carriers, which will be used to bring containers off the docks at APM’s Pier 400 facility to trucks and on-dock rail.

APM General Counsel Peter Jabbour said the company expects the first batch of straddle carriers to arrive by July or August. 

As noted by several board members, the ILWU’s 2008 contract with the Pacific Maritime Association gave marine terminal operators the right to automate container handling.

Since the straddle carriers can also run on diesel, APM could use the straddle carriers regardless of today’s vote. But Jabbour said the electric charging infrastructure better comports with the port’s clean air goals.

“We firmly support the port’s clean air action plan and believe the permit will allow us to achieve those goals,” Jabbour said. “We will work with the ILWU and improve communication and collaboration on this modernization project.”

The ILWU, though, remains adamantly opposed to the project due to the effect on yard driver positions. In the nearly four-hour debate on the permit, ILWU members and supporters asked that the board require an economic impact report for the project.

But Port of Los Angeles staff said the type of permit APM asked for only required that environmental risks be detailed.

Opponents also brought up the supposed deleterious effects on the environment, conflating the wireless networking technology APM wants to use at the site with 5G cellular, along with the potential harm to shore birds that nest at the site.

But jobs remain the key issue for the ILWU. Pacific Maritime Association President James McKenna said his group supports paid job training for longshore workers. Executive Director Gene Seroka also reiterated his call for a port-wide initiative to help longshore workers understand what their role will be in an automated future

Board Commissioner Ed Renwick, who voted to deny the appeal, said the ILWU needs to consider the larger issue of market share loss occurring at the port.

Renwick said that Los Angeles lost one-fifth of its market share over the last 15 years, equating to three million containers. He said the Port of Los Angeles needs to stay competitive in the face of port revenue being used to fund dredging at other ports and the lower cost of intermodal rail service out of other ports.

“Everyone and their brother is trying to steal our boxes,” Renwick said.

This article has been amended to correct statements attributed to Ed Renwick.


  1. Fred

    The ILWU are knuckle dragging dishonest Neanderthals with a gang mentality. Rather than prepare their people for the future, which is coming one way or the other, they’d rather keep the port industry in the dark ages so they can employ more people which is where they make their money. They are all about control which they seem to think they they are better equipped to wield rather than the companies who invest millions and millions of dollars in creating the business and employing them. The sooner port terminal corporations can break the ILWU chokehold on the west coast ports the better. Their days are numbered.

  2. Dan

    You mean they sold Americans out for more profits. The issue with Propagandist is they give some sort of a one sided message to make greedy companies sound as if they are make humanity better. While instead they make create slums for outside foreign investment companies to come and make America like all the two class countries. This writer should be taken to court to slander.

  3. Edward R. Renwick, Commissioner for the Port of Los Angeles

    Dear Mr. Angell,

    Please correct a mistake in your article entitled “APM wins, yet again, approval on Pier 400 automation project”. In the article, you stated: “Since the 2015 longshore strike, Renwick said three million containers annually have moved from the San Pedro ports to other terminals that can turn around freight more quickly.” I said no such thing. Rather, I said that over the last 15 years the San Pedro Ports have lost 20% of their market share which equates to 3,000,000 TEUs. More importantly, I did not attribute the market share loss to the speed of terminal operations. Your statement implies I blame the ILWU for the market share loss; which could not be further from the truth.

    The San Pedro Ports are blessed with the best ILWU labor force in the world and outstanding industry partners that together ensure best in class operations. Rather, I attributed the market share loss to factors beyond the control of the workforce and terminal operators. I explicitly called out two in particular: (1) the Harbor Maintenance Tax through which donor ports like the San Pedro Ports pay for the dredging of competing ports in the Gulf and East Coast; and (2) uncompetitive cargo rates imposed by the major railroads which charge $400 to $600 more to transport a container from Los Angeles to Chicago than the Canadian railroads charge to carry cargo from Vancouver to Chicago.

    I would greatly appreciate you correcting your article.


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