The harbor commission delays a vote on permitting APM Terminals to automate its Pier 400 container terminal during a hearing that drew more than 2,000 people.
The Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission voted unanimously Thursday to postpone a vote on a challenge to a coastal development permit requested by APM Terminals to modernize its Pier 400 facility.
In a remarkable display of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s power to mobilize its members and local community, more than 2,000 people showed up for the hearing at which the board considered the ILWU’s appeal of the permit. The meeting, which lasted more than three and a half hours, was held in the port’s cruise baggage facility to accommodate the large crowd.
APMT, an affiliate of Maersk Line, wants to operate automated battery-electric straddle carriers at its Pier 400 container terminal, the largest in the port, to replace trucks that are currently used to move containers between quayside ship-to-shore cranes and the container yard.
By using straddle carriers and reconfiguring its container yard, the company will be able to reduce the turn time for truckers moving containers to and from the port, said John Ochs, senior director for West Coast labor relations and regulatory affairs with APM Terminals in Los Angeles.
APM Terminals says “modernizing Pier 400 will keep the Port of L.A. competitive in an increasingly challenging environment that has seen a significant loss of market share for cargo on the West Coast. Keeping cargo in Southern California supports jobs and the local economy. Losing that cargo to other markets hurts the economy and ILWU members.”
But the ILWU says it opposes the permit because automation will lead to a loss of jobs. It said jobs have been lost at the TraPac terminal in Los Angeles and the Long Beach Container Terminal, both of which have been automated in recent years.
After several hours of testimony, the board decided to heed a suggestion from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had urged the commission in a letter to take full advantage of a 28 calendar day period allowed under the port’s master plan to consider the facts and arguments raised during Thursday’s hearing.
Garcetti said the permit “could facilitate the introduction of automated equipment. The decision before the board may have far-reaching impacts on the pace of automation at our port and could define how the port will compete and sustain jobs into the foreseeable future.”
He invited the ILWU and APMT to meet with him in City Hall to discuss the issue and said “these discussions should serve as the basis of a new task force to explore automation and its impacts on the future of the Port of Los Angeles and others across the state.”
APMT said it accepted Garcetti’s suggestion “to facilitate conversations among ILWU, APM Terminals and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) representatives.” PMA is the organization that collectively bargains on behalf of ILWU employers, including both terminal operators and shipping companies.
The port staff had asked the port to find the APMT permit had been issued in compliance with the port’s master plan and the California Coastal Act, which requires a permit for modification of facilities in the port’s coastal zone jurisdiction.
The port staff found because minimal coastal resources are involved, there is minimal change in land and water use and no significant adverse environmental impacts from the changes that APMT plans. Executive Director Gene Seroka approved the permit, but the ILWU appealed the issuance of the permit.
Peter Jabbour, general counsel for APMT in North America, said there was no legal basis for the ILWU appeal of the permit to be granted and that there was nothing adverse to the environment in the infrastructure improvements APMT is proposing. He also said the port’s master plan says tenants should be encouraged to modernize facilities and new technology including automated port technology.
“Objections to automation are not generally are not part of the coastal development plan process,” he noted.
But the ILWU and community members asked for an expansive reading of the regulation, saying that the economic impact of the facility on the surrounding community should be taken into account.
Mark Mendoza, president of ILWU Local 13, said jobs at the port “support, uplift and keep the south bay region booming” and added that approval of the permit would “ultimately assure the economic demise of the Southern California region.”
He accused Maersk of using the California Environmental Quality Act to eliminate jobs.
“This proposal is not about clean air and streamlining business practices, it’s about Maersk maximizing their profit,” he said.
Gary Herrera, vice president of Local 13, said the changes APMT wants to make are “first and foremost about eliminating labor” and said the board should hold off on approval until the consequences of automation and elimination of labor are evaluated.
While agreeing that the ILWU’s contract with the Pacific Maritime Association allows for automation, he said, “The issue of automation is bigger than the ILWU-PMA contract. It’s about the community, the economy and ultimately the future of the middle class.”
He said the jobs of hundreds of workers would be eliminated and pointed out, “Robots do not pay taxes, robots do not shop in our communities, robots do not pay rent, they don’t buy homes, they don’t lease office space, they don’t deposit money, robots do not vote.”
A number of politicians spoke in support of the union, including Councilman Joe Busciano, who said the union was “fighting not just for jobs, but a way of life” and that “these damn machines can be run by humans.”
Also speaking was Janice Hahn, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a former member of Congress who helped form the PORTS caucus to advocate in favor of the port industry.
Seroka said at the conclusion of the meeting that the work the port had done on the coastal development permit covered a narrow scope of California law.
“As we have heard today, more than likely it does not take into account as much as it should,” Seroka said.
He said there is more work that needs to be done and a need for “modernized thinking” that “goes beyond simply the letter of the law.”
But he also said he believes cargo through the port will eventually double, and “we will need each and every one of you more than ever,” a comment that brought cheers and applause from the ILWU members and other members of the audience.