International Longshore and Warehouse Union opposes plan to automate the APM Terminals container facility.
The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners on Tuesday morning postponed a vote on whether to uphold the approval of a coastal development permit granted to APM Terminals (APMT) earlier this year by the port’s staff so that it could modernize the APMT Pier 400 facility.
The board voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the permit after it received a letter from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in which he said he was meeting with representatives of APMT and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has asked for the permit to be denied. The ILWU is concerned that automation at the terminal will result in the loss of jobs for its members.
Garcetti said he was encouraged by the leadership of APMT and the union and said the negotiations would benefit if the vote was postponed. The harbor board agreed to a 30-day recess.
APMT had requested a permit to make changes at its Pier 400 terminal under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Port of Los Angeles staff found the changes APMT is planning involve minimal change in land and water use and advance the port’s goals of optimizing land use and increasing cargo terminal efficiency.
But the permit is being challenged by the ILWU, which is asking for an expansive reading of the CEQA regulation, saying that the economic impact of job losses at the facility on the surrounding community should be taken into account as part of the environmental impact of the changes APMT wants to make.
In its 2008 contract, the ILWU agreed to let employers automate container terminals.
Both the TraPac Terminal in the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach Container Terminal in the Port of Long Beach’s “Middle Harbor” operate highly automated facilities, but the ILWU appears to be trying to draw a line in the sand and prevent or slow further automation of container terminals in Southern California.
About 2,000 union members and their supporters turned out for a hearing last month at which the board heard testimony from dozens of union members and community members opposed to APMT’s plan, which would involve using automated straddle carriers to replace the drivers and trucks that currently move containers between ship-to-shore cranes and container stacks and move containers from those stacks onto the drayage trucks that move containers in and out of the port.
APMT said there is no legal basis for the ILWU appeal as there is nothing adverse to the environment in the infrastructure improvements it is proposing.
In addition to replacing diesel-powered trucks with battery-powered straddle carriers, APMT also would install charging stations for the electrical equipment and a vertical racking system for refrigerated containers and same small antennas for the Wi-Fi network that would be used to operate equipment.
Initially, however, APMT just wants to test the equipment in a small section of the terminal.
APMT said the new facility would remove workers from dangerous areas in the terminal and reduce the amount of time drayage truckers spend waiting to receive and drop off containers.
Port consultant John Martin said cargo-handling charges through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are 90 percent to 165 percent higher than those of competing ports.
A report prepared by Martin, Larry Henry of ContainerTrac Inc. and Michael Nacht of the University of California, Berkeley for the Pacific Maritime Association said that the cost of moving a container through the two Southern California ports is $540 compared to $310 for North Atlantic ports, $300 for Gulf ports and $285 for ports in the South Atlantic.
The report said the cost differential will increase with compliance with the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) requirements.
“Obviously, such cost impacts, without any way to offset such cost, will have a major impact on the amount of discretionary cargo through the L.A./LB ports,” the report said.
It said that the amount of discretionary cargo imported into the U.S. from Asia that moves through Los Angeles and Long Beach has declined significantly in the past two decades, from 56 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2018, while the share handled by East and Gulf Coast ports has climbed from 27 percent to 41 percent, with the share handled by ports in Seattle and Tacoma also declining from 17 to 13 percent. (Their report did not look at the growing volume of Asian imports handled by the Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.)
The report said continuing loss of discretionary cargo would ripple through the entire supply chain, affecting trucking, railroads, warehousing, distribution, importers and exporters.
Erosion in market share would “go far beyond an economic hit to the state, regional and local economies; losing share can have a major negative impact on the environmental and public health goals sought for the ports and their adjacent communities. Continued loss of market share may jeopardize the resources needed to invest in electronic equipment that helps to improve sustainability through reduced turn times, reduced truck idling, and eliminating terminal equipment that runs on diesel.”