Monday, 18 March 2019

L.A.-Long Beach port automation will take center stage at upcoming hearing

ILWU workers staged a protest outside the port building in San Pedro Thursday January 24, 2019 where harbor commission was scheduled to take up an item that would bring more automation to one of its terminals. Mark Mendoza ILWU Local 13 president speaks to the crowd. A hearing challenging the proposal is set for 8:30 a.m. March 21 in San Pedro. Photo By Chuck Bennett

By  | | Daily Breeze

On the face of it, a March 21 public hearing is a straight-forward matter — consideration of a basic coastal development permit allowing a Port of Los Angeles terminal to use automation to convert it to electric and hybrid vehicles.
But for the longshore workers who would be displaced by the changes at the APM Terminal at Pier 400, it’s become a line in the sand in the inevitable trend that is changing the way ports move and handle cargo.
Union workers argue that the stakes are high in what they say is a battle between humans and robots.
Speaking at a recent harbor commission meeting, Gary Herrera, vice president of ILWU’s Local 13, said the terminal was “trying to get rid of us, the working class. … This is a direct strike against not only our labor but our community.”
Automation has swept through many European ports but has been slow to advance in the U.S., in part due to the high changeover costs but also to union resistance.
That’s expected to change in the next 10 years.
Two local terminals — TraPac in the Port of Los Angeles and the Long Beach Container Terminal in the Port of Long Beach — have already implemented machines that can grab shipping containers and move them without human operators.

Robots are coming

Automation not only increases terminal efficiency but helps ports meet increasingly stringent environmental requirements to cut air and water pollution.
But it also is also replaces some well-paid union workers with robots and other machinery.
“Robots are a loss to the community,” said Ray Familathe, former international vice president of the ILWU at a recent harbor commission meeting. “Robots that APM (Terminals) 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 but create revenue for the company that chooses to make the capital investment.”
Hundreds are expected to turn out for Thursday’s 8:30 a.m. meeting in the baggage handling dome in the World Cruise Terminal parking lot along Harbor Boulevard near Fifth Street in San Pedro.
A resolution passed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party supports the union’s fight against the terminal changes on Pier 400, arguing that more study needs to be done on the economic and social consequences of such automation.

Permit approved

The routine permit for the APM terminal changes was already approved by port administration but drew a formal appeal from the ILWU, triggering the upcoming hearing. It was pulled from a January Los Angeles harbor commission agenda when a large crowd of protestors showed up.
Machinery proposed by APM would replace union drivers who man the utility tractor rigs, trucks and so-called UTRs that shuttle shipping containers.
Language was included acknowledging automation in the 2008 contract between the union and the Pacific Maritime Association representing terminal operators and cargo carriers.
Specifically, the contract passages state that “it is recognized that the introduction of new technologies, including fully mechanized and robotic-operated marine terminals, necessarily displaces traditional longshore work and workers …”
To address the change, the contract also agreed that ILWU workers would be trained and employed to maintain and repair such equipment.

Environment versus jobs?

In a statement released by APM Terminals, the proposed work is a modernization of the cargo handling activities required to meet new environmental benchmarks being set by both the state and the ports.
“Our company is trying to do exactly what California, the local Air District, the city, the port, environmental groups and local communities have directed marine terminals to do — improve the environment and public health by reducing diesel and greenhouse gas emissions,” the statement said. “And we are doing so under plans to automate operations in the manner that is fully compliant with the coastwise contract between our industry and the members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.”
APM Terminals contends that the changes are estimated to reduce diesel truck vehicle miles within the terminal by 65 percent. That would be accomplished, the terminal statement said, with “minimal” work “involving basic infrastructure installation such as electrical vehicle chargers, stacked electrical charging for refrigerated containers, traffic barriers and fencing.”
But the inevitable impacts on labor are widely acknowledged.
John Ochs, senior director of West Coast labor and regulatory affairs at APM Terminals, told the union crowd gathered at the Jan. 24 harbor commission meeting that the company was 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 also said he understood that, from the union’s perspective, “The news we’re telling you is horrible.” But, he added, terminal owners have the right to make changes in how the terminal is operated.
Union jobs aren’t the only ones that will be affected, opponents of the change argue. The wages earned by the men and women in those jobs also will be felt in spending cuts at local businesses in the community.
“This is serious business,” ILWU Local 13 President Mark Mendoza told the commissioners on Jan. 24. “You’re talking about medical plans, you’re talking about pension plans, you’re taking about community jobs.”


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