In a positive sign that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are finding common ground, comes the July 26th announcement that the two sides “… have reached a tentative agreement on health benefits, subject to other issues in the negotiations.”
The ILWU/PMA announcement may be a signal that the two parties believe that agreement on other contract issues is possible.
The Automation Question
One contentious issue that will still need to be resolved is the issue of automation of container terminals, which the two sides agreed to in the 2008 ILWU/PMA contract.
In 2019, there was an ILWU rank-and-file backlash against automation, over its implementation at the APM Terminal at the Port of Los Angeles.
In July 2020, ILWU President Willie Adams sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom arguing against automation: “This is simply not the time to allow further job losses to automation. Losing jobs to automation not only undermines the long term capacity of our ports, but it does lasting damage on our families.”
Currently three terminals — Long Beach Container Terminal, TraPac and the APM Terminal utilize automated operations.
In 2021, the ILWU denounced Total Terminals International (TTI), when the company announced its intentions to automate. TTI operates a facility at the Port of Long Beach’s Pier T.
ILWU Local 13 President Ramon Ponce de Leon charged that: “While foreign-owned corporations like TTI continue to push to fully automate their terminal operations at our publicly owned U.S. ports, they need to remember that the ports exist for the benefit of the U.S. and local economies, not the destruction of jobs and maximum extraction of foreign profit.”
PMA Challenges ILWU View on Terminal Automation
This view is challenged by a recent PMA commissioned report.
The report found that automated container terminals at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have generated more work hours and higher pay for longshore workers.
The report entitled “Terminal Automation in Southern California: Implications for Growth, Jobs, and the Future Competitiveness of West Coast Ports” was authored by Dr. Michael Nacht and Larry Henry.
The PMA report was harshly criticized by an ILWU official as hiding the impact of job losses caused by automated operations at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
The findings by the authors argue that automated terminals increase the competitiveness of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach: “As a result, cargo handling has grown rapidly, and paid hours for ILWU workers at LBCT (Long Beach Container Terminal) and TraPac (located at the Port of Los Angeles) were 31.5% higher in 2021 than in 2015, before the transition to automation began … That is more than twice the 13.9% growth in paid hours at San Pedro Bay’s non-automated terminals. Rather than reducing work for ILWU members, automation has raised demand for their services.”
Source: Stas Margaronis Jul 27, 2022 American Journal of Transportation