US jobs vs. foreign bots – West Coast port bargaining lines set

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Pier-300-channel-overhead Port of Los Angeles.

With negotiations at U.S. West Coast ports set to begin this week, on May 10, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is positioning itself as “Luddite-restrained modernists,” while the union called on the Americans to support American dockworkers against “foreign looters”. ‘.

In an open letter, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) President Willie Adams praised its 22,000 members as frontline workers who have kept American commerce running through the pandemic.

Mr Adams said union members had experienced the same fears and “devastating losses” as the rest of the country and that while the country was in lockdown, ILWU dockworkers “continued to work.

They were “moving goods through ports from San Diego, CA to Bellingham, WA to ensure our store shelves remained stocked, PPE was accessible, and hospitals were stocked” , Mr. Adams wrote. According to the union, they ensured that a record number of containers passed through the ports as demand rebounded.

The union said: “The ILWU is very proud that 2021 delivered the movement of over 26 million containers along the West Coast and marked the highest volume of cargo ever to pass through the Ports of Los Angeles. and Long Beach in a single year. .

But the union leader couldn’t resist a dig into the ‘billion=dollar’ foreign shipping companies that lease most West Coast port terminals. He claimed they had “defrauded American businesses by charging them ten times the usual shipping rates and contributed to rising inflation”.

Moreover, these same foreign carriers sought to use machines to transport goods rather than American workers.

“In addition to job loss, automation poses a threat to national security because it puts our ports at risk of being hacked, as other automated ports have experienced. Such attempts should be a concern for our nation because the intent behind them is not what is best for America, but rather what is best for foreign profit,” Mr. Adams wrote.

A spokeswoman for the union discussed the 2021 Durban port hack in South Africa and the 2017 NotPetya attack on Maersk systems, including its terminals.

Moreover, the ILWU said, documents such as the 2021 International Transport Forum report have shown how automated terminals “are actually less efficient than those operated in the traditional way”.

Meanwhile the PMA, the employers’ organization that represents terminal operators on the west coast, has launched its own pre-trade salvo, saying automation is key to ‘more efficient and sustainable growth’ in ports.

Commissioned by the PMA, a study was conducted by Dr. Michael Nacht, professor of public policy at the University of California and former Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Larry Henry, founder of ContainerTrac.

The study raised concerns that congestion and delays in Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle 40% of US imports from Asia, will see cargo shift to east coast terminals.

By studying two automated terminals at ports, the report claims that automated terminals process cargo faster, with approximately 44% higher throughput per acre than non-automated terminals. Also, due to growth, more jobs, with higher skills, were needed in automated ports to handle the increased volumes between 2015 and 2021.

According to the PMA study: “ILWU paid hours at the two automated terminals increased by 31.5%, more than double the 13.9% growth in paid hours at the non-automated terminals. The ILWU workforce registered in Los Angeles and Long Beach increased 11.2%, compared to 8.4% for the other 27 West Coast ports.

The report also claims that automation brings health benefits to workers as well as local communities by reducing emissions through the use of electrified equipment and providing fast turnaround times for diesel-powered trucks.

“Automation is a global trend and the hallmark of the world’s most advanced ports,” concludes the PMA report.

Recently, James McKenna, President and CEO of PMA, said automation was a key tool in managing higher volumes at terminals. However, he was also confident that a deal would be reached as the pandemic had resulted in greater cooperation between employers and union staff.

Still, he said, old-fashioned wages, working conditions and working hours would be the “tough issues” for negotiators.

This year’s contract negotiations may look modern compared to the sterile stagnation of yesteryear, but both sides understand that the other side must protect its members. For negotiations to succeed, both parties must show that they are capable of reaching a worthwhile compromise.

For more analysis on the West Coast negotiations, check out our Deep Dive podcast on the subject.

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