Port Operator, Union Reach Agreement Over Automated Electric Cargo Handlers

West Coast Ports Remain Closed Amid Labor Dispute

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In what could mark the end of a battle between the largest cargo operator at the Port of Los Angeles and the union that represents dockworkers, the two sides have reached an agreement over the introduction of automated equipment at the shipping yard.

APM Terminals and the International Longshore Workers Union Local 13 agreed that dockworkers will be enrolled in a “reskilling and upskilling” program, training diesel mechanics to handle automated electrical machinery, in exchange for the union allowing the automated equipment to be put in use.

“In Los Angeles, we know that if we don't guide the future, workers and communities can be left behind,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “This workforce training program will ensure today's waterfront workers are equipped for tomorrow's jobs and continue to support the harbor community.”

In a statement, APM Terminals thanked Garcetti for assuaging the negotiations between the port operator and the union. According to the agreement, the workforce training program will be available for up to 900 registered longshore workers and mechanics.

“As we prepare to modernize Pier 400, we are glad to be working in partnership with the ILWU and Pacific Maritime Association on implementing a training program that complements the changes at Pier 400 and the broader industry,” said Tom Boyd, a spokesman for Maersk, which is the Dutch parent company of APM and the largest shipping container company in the world.

Boyd said the agreement was endorsed by union leadership. Calls to the ILWU were not immediately returned.

Labor Dispute Closes West Coast Ports

All diesel-powered container handling equipment in California must be replaced by electrical-powered equipment by 2030 to comply with California air regulations, APM stated, which is part of the reason the company wants to start using the automated electric cargo handlers that don't produce emissions. The training agreement is specific to APM Terminals' Pier 400.

“We believe that it is critical to the continued success of the Port of Los Angeles that the ILWU is trained for the jobs of the future,” Boyd said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the port neighborhoods in San Pedro, said in a statement he will keep a close eye on developments stemming from the agreement.

“While APM and ILWU have come to an agreement this week, I will continue to support our longshore men and women as they fight to protect jobs and the future of work in the United States,” Buscaino said. “The agreement is not the end of this conversation but the beginning, and I am calling for the city of Los Angeles to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on the future of work and automation in our city. We must prepare for the future today because, as this fight has shown, the future is here.”

Garcetti confirmed later in the day that a Blue Ribbon Commission to study automation would be convened, per the input of the city council.

ILWU mechanics are to begin training with the new equipment in the coming weeks, and APM agreed to defer additional automated-related projects until at least July 2022, the mayor said.

The agreement was an armistice to resolve concerns dockworkers have expressed about the implementation of automation that could reduce their employment. The ILWU filed an appeal earlier this year to a Board of Harbor Commissioners decision to allow the automated products at the port. The commission rejected the appeal, but the action was vetoed by the city council, forcing another hearing on the matter. The commission, however, rejected the appeal again during the second hearing.

About 12,000 dockworkers are employed at the Port of Los Angeles, and each day there are a number of work opportunities doled out among them. The ILWU estimated 500 work opportunities per day could be lost if the automated vehicles are brought in without an agreement.

Diane Middleton, a Harbor Commission member, said during the city council's June 28 meeting that the automation project will “lead to a tremendous loss of business.” She said if 500 work opportunities are lost per day, that could translate into $200,000 lost per day to the local economy, or $52 million a year.

In 2018, the Port of Los Angeles moved the most cargo in its 111-year history, almost 9.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units.

Photo: Getty Images

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