The Los Angeles City Council voted against a permit that would allow Maersk to begin the process of automating operations at the largest marine terminal on the U.S. West Coast.
The Council’s motion to deny Maersk’s APM Terminals subsidiary a permit for installing equipment at its Pier 400 terminal to support automation comes one week after the board that governs the Port of Los Angeles narrowly approved the permit.
APM hopes to deploy up to 130 automated straddle carriers at Pier 400 under the automation plan. The automated straddle carriers would be used to shuttle containers from off the docks to drayage trucks and rail.
But the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents yard hostler drivers at the port, is vehemently opposed to the plan due to the impact on jobs.
In front of a crowd of hundreds of longshore workers and their supporters, 12 of the 15 council members voted in favor of a motion to overrule the Board of Harbor Commissioners’ vote last week in favor of the permit.
The vote essentially kicks the decision to grant the permit back to the Board of Harbor Commissioners. They can require Maersk to resubmit a permit or ask for additional information about the automation project.
In a letter addressed to the Los Angeles City Council, Maersk said it “has the undisputed right under its lease and its collective bargaining agreement to introduce automated technology of this sort and does not require any permit or any other port, city or state approval.”
APM Terminals spokesman Tom Boyd said APM is “disappointed by the L.A. City Council who disregarded the actions of the Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners vote – and like Councilman Buscaino mentioned we hope the situation will be resolved in the near future.”
Boyd was referring to Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district is home to many longshore workers. He said Maersk’s permit application failed to detail the economic impact of the automation. ILWU officials have estimated that up to 500 positions at Pier 400 could be eliminated by the project.
The project is “impacting hundreds of jobs,” Buscaino said. “That merits a broader discussion. We must be a city where technology creates jobs and not kills jobs.”
The project is even drawing national attention. A speaker at today’s vote read a statement from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “expressing concern about the permit approval for APM and allow cargo workers to be replaced by automated cargo moving equipment. I ask you to stay this permit.”
Gary Herrera, vice president of the local ILWU chapter, also brought up, yet again, ancillary issues related to the automation project such as what impact will it have on the least tern and the supposed deleterious effects of advanced wireless technology.
“The permit as written had many flaws,” Herrera said. “We have a bird sanctuary there that is federally protected. The cancer risks of 5G wireless are phenomenal.”
“Technology is supposed to enhance our lives, not eliminate them,” Herrera said. “APM’s only goal is to eliminate us.”
The ILWU was joined by other non-union members of the community surrounding the port, all of whom support the ILWU. John Bagakis, owner of Big Nick’s pizza in San Pedro, shared with the city council his visceral experience of seeing a pizza-making robot once at a trade show.
“I was never more disgusted in my life to see something like that and would never eat something that came from that,” Bagakis said.