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.