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ILWU blasts plan to automate Los Angeles terminal

International Longshore and Warehouse Union says plan to automate Pier 400 puts robots ahead of people.

   A plan by the Maersk subsidiary APM Terminals (APMT) to test and ultimately accommodate automated equipment at Pier 400 in the Port of Los Angeles is getting pushback from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
   At a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Thursday, Mark Mendoza, president of Local 13 of the ILWU, complained Denmark-based Maersk was a “foreign company coming in here to displace workers” and that “automation is not good for community, is not good for labor, is not good for America.”
   Limited information on APMTs plans was available. APMT said that it had originally planned to discuss a coastal development permit to “perform light civil engineering work that adds electricity, battery charging stations, refrigerated racks” at Pier 400 at the meeting. It added the permit would allow the company to “ultimately accommodate electric, eco-friendly, self-guided straddle carrier container handling equipment at the facility.” 
   APMT said the equipment would be tested on a section of Pier 400 it had leased to California United Terminals (CUT) before Hyundai Merchant Marine shut down the CUT operation in 2017.
   In a letter to customers, APMT explained its work was “necessary to ensure Pier 400 is compliant with the upcoming California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations and Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) that mandate zero to near-zero emissions from all container-handling equipment by the year 2030. As part of this regulation, APM Terminals must submit their plan this year explaining how we will achieve compliance.”
   Discussion of the permit was pulled from the meeting agenda, but Harbor Commission President Jaime Lee allowed comments from the audience because of the large number of speakers who had showed up for the meeting. ILWU members held a protest outside the ports headquarters where the meeting was held.
   Mendoza said APMT wanted to install machinery that would replace work done with utility tractor rigs, trucks with specialized chassis commonly called “bomb carts” or UTRs, that shuttle containers on terminals and which are driven by ILWU members. He said the change would affect thousands of workers — not only those at the terminal, but those in the community who depend on spending by dockworkers.
    Ray Familathe, former international vice president of the ILWU, said APMT plans to purchase about 130 automated hybrid straddle carriers. He said the same equipment that the company is planning to acquire could be equipped with cabs so that longshoremen could retain their jobs.
   “We represent humans, not robots, and humans need employment,” he said.
   “Robots are a loss to the community. Robots that APMT wishes to put to work out there on Pier 400 don’t shop in the local community, they don’t pay city or state taxes, they don’t vote for politicians. In fact they don’t do anything except create revenue for the company that chooses to make the capital investment.”
   He also said that the use of straddle carriers would limit the height at which container could be stacked to three high and asked how the port would be able to cope with higher volumes.
   Tom Boyd, a spokesman for APMT, said the company has been in discussions with the union for a year about its plans for the terminal and said testing of equipment was needed to see how it performs. He said it was premature to discuss the equipment it plans to eventually install at the terminal or how many jobs might be affected.
   He also noted that there are two highly automated terminals operating in Southern California — the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT) in the Port of Long Beach’s Middle Harbor and TraPac’s terminal at Berths 136-147 in the Port of Los Angeles.
   Familathe said there has been 70 percent job loss at other automated terminals such as the LBCT.
    “I’m tired of listening to global terminal operators. … It’s about labor, saving labor costs, and part of your port master plan is providing employment opportunities to the local community,” said Familathe.
    Mendoza thanked the commission for delaying action on the permit. “Let us figure out some sort of solution here. If we have to meet with them, so be it, let’s meet, but do not displace these workers.”
   Joe Gasperov, president of ILWU Local 63, which represents marine clerks, said, “There are other options to keep people employed” and still meet the port’s environmental goals.
   Gary Herrera, vice president of Local 13, accused APMT of “trying to get rid of us, the working class. … This is a direct strike against not only our labor but our community.”
   John Ochs, senior director of West Coast labor and regulatory affairs at APM Terminals, told the harbor commission and and the audience, which was filled with ILWU members, “I represent the big bad company, I represent your tenant.
   “We’re not insensitive to, nor are we ignorant of, the fact that we have had a partnership with you and the success that we’ve enjoyed here in Los Angeles and previously when we were over in Long Beach is the fact that you are our workforce and you are the ones that move the cargo,” Ochs said. “Although you may have a perception of A.P. Moller as this foreign company, these people in Denmark that you’ve never met, APM Terminals Los Angeles is a U.S. company, we’re a standalone company.”
   He told Mendoza, “I realize that for where you are and the esteemed role you have as the president of the largest longshore local in North America the news that we’re telling you is horrible. I respect the situation that we’ve stuck you in and I respect what you’re doing here this morning. If I were in your shoes, I would probably do the same thing.”
   As a tenant of the port, Ochs said, its lease “puts the Clean Air
Action Plan on us. The automation that we’re going to do is aligned with
the Clean Air Action Plan. But I’m not hiding in back of the Clean Air
Action Plan with the labor savings that we’re seeking to get. They’re
related but they’re separate issues.”
   He said the master contract that was negotiated between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), which negotiates on behalf of employers, in 2002 gave the marine terminal the ability to employ technology to eliminate marine clerk jobs.
   APMT said in its customer letter that said Pier 400 “is one of the highest cost terminals in the world due to labor costs.”
   APMT noted that there are “already two container terminals in the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach operating that use automated equipment — and the ILWU labor contract clearly allows container terminal operators to introduce technology into their operations.”
   In addition to the Long Beach Container Terminal, which uses automated guided vehicles and automated stacking cranes, the TraPac terminal in the Port of Los Angeles uses automated straddle carriers and automated stacking cranes.
   “At bargaining in 2008, we negotiated the ability to bring in automation which displaces longshore work,” he said. “This language has been in the contract for 11 years.”
   Ochs then read section 15 of the ILWU-PMA contract, which says: “There should be no interference by the union with the employers’ right to operate efficiently and to change the method of work and to utilize labor-saving devices.”
   He told the harbor commission, “That’s in the contract. This is my relationship with them. Respectfully, this has nothing to do with my relationship with you as my landlord. We have a labor agreement. I have the ability to automate our facility in accordance with this labor agreement. If labor wants to challenge me on that, then we’ll deal with it inside of this contract.”
   Ochs tried to close with a comment that he said Harry Bridges, the founding president of the ILWU, made in 1957.
   But as he said “there won’t be a favored nation. The union cannot give the advantage to one terminal,” he was heckled by the audience and then cut off by Lee as his time for comment expired.

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.