LA Port commission stands behind automation permit
Date: Monday, July 15, 2019
Source: Daily Breeze
Port commissioners on Thursday, July 11, upheld their earlier decision backing a permit to begin automating Pier 400 following a sometimes raucous five-hour meeting.
An estimated 1,500 union members and supporters attended the San Pedro meeting.
Loud outbursts and shouts of “Liar!” and other epithets peppered the occasionally turbulent meeting as port staff, terminal operators and commissioners discussed the issues, prompting commission President Jaime Lee to repeatedly warn the crowd to be orderly.
As they did before, dozens of International Longshore and Warehouse Union members also spoke during the formal hearing, providing impassioned, one-minute testimonies throughout the morning. The ripple effects of automation, they warned, devastate workers, their families and the community.
The hearing and second vote came after the Los Angeles City Council last month vetoed the commissioners’ first decision, and asked them to reconsider.
In the end, though, commissioners repeated their vote from June 20 to deny an ILWU appeal and stand behind granting a permit to APM Terminals, owned by shipping-container giant Maersk.
What happens now is unclear.
When asked about possible legal recourse, ILWU Local 13 President Ray Familathe said after the meeting that the union would have to assess its situation.
There was no word from City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office late Thursday.
But both sides are still continuing to talk about possible agreements that could help protect workers going forward.
Jim McKenna, of the Pacific Maritime Association that represents employers, said one element of those talks are plans to set up a worker-training facility in Wilmington that would help dockworkers transition to different skills. Workers would use the facility for free and receive their full pay while in training. The Port of Los Angeles also is actively seeking a training program, said Executive Director Gene Seroka.
Statements by both APM and PMA expressed confidence that the plans would now move forward.
“Throughout history, modernizing the waterfront has created important job opportunities and economic growth for our region and state,” the PMA statement read. “Continued terminal modernization will help keep the West Coast on that path.”
APM spokesman Tom Boyd said the permit will allow the terminal to “be able to remain competitive for the Southern California port community” and meet clean-air goals.
But few argue that there is a larger picture that needs to be considered as ports head down the road of automation. While two other terminals are fully automated in the twin ports, the union set its sights on this one, Familathe said, because it is the largest terminal and would have a bigger impact.
How that future will look specifically for workers remains somewhat unclear.
“When I hear about training, I’m not sure yet what we’re training for,” said Commissioner Anthony Pirozzi. “What are those jobs of the future? It’s changing all around us and we cannot deny it.”
Familathe, following the meeting, said an APM terminal in Mexico was using automated equipment manned by humans, but that the equipment coming to Pier 400 was designed to be unmanned.
Either way, APM Terminals operators have said they will begin automating the first 100 acres of the 440-acre Pier 400, whether with the electric equipment the permit allows — which produce zero emissions — or with diesel charging stations, which would not require a permit.
The equipment is already on its ocean voyage to the port, terminal representatives said, and should arrive in a few weeks.
Commissioner Lucia Moreno-Linares told the crowd that “the facts haven’t changed,” as she began her remarks about why she still supported the permit. When she suggested that the union’s leadership hadn’t been honest with its members about the issue, the crowed erupted in a deafening roar, standing and turning their backs to her.
She had suggested it was union leaders who erred by approving a labor contract that allowed for terminal automation in exchange for large pay and benefit increases.
At that point, a group from the audience surged forward in unison, fingers jabbing the air, shouting, “Shame on you! Shame on you!” at commissioners.
Commissioner Diane Middleton unsuccessfully asked her colleagues to hit the pause button and further study the matter.
When that motion failed, she urged commissioners to reconsider their earlier votes.
“This is a big responsibility and we want to get it right,” she said. “We all want the same things. We’re all smart, we should be able to figure this out.”
Commissioner Ed Renwick supported the permit but said he has concerns about automation and how it will impact the future.
But, he added, other U.S. ports are eating into the Port of Los Angeles’ market share.
“Everyone and his brother is trying to steal our boxes,” he said of the growing competition. “Those are boxes that would come to you.
“I do not want to see the Port of Los Angeles automated because we’ll see a lot of jobs going away,” Renwick continued. “Unfortunately, years ago, your leadership made a mistake and they cut a deal.”
Terms of the 2008 ILWU contract acknowledged that terminals have the right to automate and the union agreed to not interfere with those projects.
Familathe later said it was not a mistake to include that in the contract, adding that the wording also could hold different interpretations when it came to interfering with automation.
“The biggest thing for the average longshoreman is we don’t see you (APM) bringing us along,” he said.