Friday, 1 February 2019

Port of LA longshoremen protest plan to increase automation at one terminal

ILWU workers staged a protest outside the port building in San Pedro Thursday January 24, 2019 where harbor commission will be taking up an item that would bring more automation to one of its terminals. Mark Mendoza ILWU Local 13 president speaks to the crowd. Photo By Chuck Bennett

Members of the longshoremen and warehouse workers union picketed outside a meeting of the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners Thursday morning, Jan. 24, protesting the approval of a permit that will allow a major terminal operator to increase automation at the Port of Los Angeles.
Leaders for the International Longshore and Warehouse union argued that adding automation could eliminate thousands of jobs and damage the larger community.

That permit, for APM Terminals, was approved earlier this month.
“This is serious business,” said Mark Mendoza, president of ILWU Local 13. “You’re talking about medical plans, you’re talking about pension plans, you’re talking about community jobs.”
The permit only required administrative approval. But typically, according to a staff report, the harbor commissioners would receive the permit and accompanying documents; they wouldn’t need to vote on it, however, unless two or more commissioners asked to do so.

The commission was supposed to discuss the permit Thursday. But the day before, officials pulled the item from the agenda without explanation. The permit is still approved.
The permit is still approved. However, by pulling it from the agenda, the commission effectively pumped the brakes on APM’s plans. Phillip Sanfield, a representative for the harbor commission, explained that for the permit to be legally valid, it must be presented to the board. In typical situations, this process is virtually automatic but, in special circumstances, like the longshoremen’s protest today, the board can stop the process. APM cannot proceed until their permit is presented to the board.
“We pulled it because we talked with both parties and we understood there was a lot of concern from the ILWU that came up in the last day or two,” Sanfield said. “We see our role as intending to help facilitate a dialogue between the two parties involved – the union and our tenant – to discuss this issue. We pulled the item to help facilitate discussion between those parties.”

Until it’s back on the agenda, APM can’t move forward with their plans. And, Sanfield said, it won’t be back on the agenda until the two parties talk it out. That’s good news for Donald Galaz, a longshoreman whose entire family works at the L.A.-Long Beach port complex.

The automation project is set to begin this year, said Tom Boyd, spokesman for APM Terminals. But, he added, it’s too early to say how many jobs could be lost.
Union leaders set up the protest before the permit was pulled from the agenda, and  some union members were caught off-guard.
Donald Galaz, a longshoreman whose entire family works at the L.A.-Long Beach port complex, didn’t know the item had been pulled until a Southern California News Group reporter asked him about it.
“This is an attack, not only on our union, but our town,” he said. “If we start losing our jobs, the local jobs are going to suffer too.”
When the doors opened at the Port of Los Angeles administrative building, where the commissioners meet, more than a 100 union members filed in – packing the hearing. Every seat was taken.
None of the harbor commissioners spoke about the controversy over automation. But during public comment, several union members made impassioned pleas to the board.
“Automation is not good for the community, it’s not good for America,” Mendoza said. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of jobs that are at risk here.”

He accused APM Terminals of using the Clean Air Action Plan – a joint initiative by the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports to reduce emissions – to push for automation. APM, he added, was using the plan to disguise labor reductions.
Joe Gasperov, president of the union’s Local 63 chapter, said he remembered when the Port of Long Beach increased automation there.
“We saw approximately a 70 percent reduction in our workforce in our harbor,” he said.
Gary Herrera, vice president of Local 13, argued automation can’t move as quickly as human workers.
“We keep breaking records, but they don’t care about records,” he said. “They care about labor costs.”
Then, John Ochs, senior director for APM Los Angeles, addressed the commission – and the union members.
“I represent the big, bad company,” he said to the audience before turning toward the commissioners. “I represent your tenant.”
He turned back to the crowd to address them directly.
“APM is not insensitive to what this plan will do, not to the workforce today, or next week, or what it’ll do to the workforce 20 years from now,” he said.
“Although you may have this perception of APM as this foreign company,” he added, “APM Los Angeles is a U.S. company.”
Ochs said he respected the perspective of Mendoza, one of the union leaders, and understands that from his view, “The news we’re telling you is horrible.”
But, he added, the labor contract states the union can’t interfere with APM’s right to change how the terminal operates and save on labor. He also said that any contractual dispute has nothing to do with the commission.
“If the labor wants to challenge me on that,” he said, “then we’ll deal with it inside this contract.”
Ochs tried to end his speech with a quote from Harry Bridges, a former longshoremen labor leader. But the union drowned him out with protests.

“Labor-saving devices have nothing to do with efficiency,” shouted one man.
Outside, after the public comment period ended, Herrera addressed the crowd of union members waiting on the street.
“We stood toe to toe with that guy,” he said. “But today is one day of many. We need to stop our negative vibes between ourselves. We need to solidify.”
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