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LA denies ILWU appeal

The Los Angeles Harbour Commission has upheld a permit for electrical infrastructure for automated straddle carriers at Pier 400.

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After a difficult and, at times, hostile pubic hearing, the Los Angeles Harbour Commission has rejected for the second time an appeal by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) over a coastal development permit for battery hybrid automated straddle carriers at Pier 400. The Commission had already denied the appeal, but the Los Angeles City Council took jurisdiction of the issue and referred it back to the Commission.


The Commission upheld its finding that the Coastal Development Permit in question was issued in compliance with the port’s Master Plan and the Coastal Act.


APM Terminals (APMT) and the Port of Los Angeles clearly had the law on their side throughout the whole process. The ILWU and the longshoremen and women of Los Angeles tried to use the appeal to prevent automation and the significant job losses that will result at Pier 400, but ultimately APMT is within its rights to follow TraPac and LBCT and automate its yard operation.


Peter Jabbor, vice president general counsel of APM Terminals Pacific LLC, said that the first batch of Kalmar automated straddle carriers are actually on the water now, and will be at the terminal in a matter of weeks. If APMT were denied a permit for electrical infrastructure for the battery charging system it would simply operate the equipment as diesel-electric machines.


The commissioners and Port Executive Director Gene Seroka were sympathetic to the situation the ILWU now faces, but at the same time there was a sense from Seroka, in particular, that the Port of LA needs to change the way some of its terminals operate to compete, including introducing more automation.


Seroka made the case that change is necessary for LA’s future. For the first time in 17 years, he said, LA is now growing its volume at the same rate as the market, but it is still falling behind in terms of competitiveness. The port has increased its workforce by 1,000 registered and 5,000 casual workers, “but that increase in work far exceeds the increase in cargo volume,” Seroka said.


Many people in the port industry, including ILWU leadership, have seen automation and a change to a less labour-intensive operating method coming for a long time, but it was never clear to the ILWU membership. Commissioner Lucia Moreno-Linares, who was appointed to the Commission two years ago, said the discussions to explain to ILWU members that they had already agreed under previous contracts to allow automation were “conversations that should have taken place years ago.”


Commissioner Lucia Moreno-Linares
Commissioner Lucia Moreno-Linares

Moreno-Linares called on the ILWU to “actually lead and do the right thing by its membership by working on a plan to integrate automation.” Although it was at times difficult to hear her over the interjections, she said the ILWU has not been honest with its membership over the automation provisions in the labour contract.


“If automation is seen by the ILWU as a job killer, I suggest next time you get an agreement, and you recommend to membership to approve it, tell them all the facts, not just against. Because this discussion today on automation and whether it goes through is not a decision of this Board, but rather something that your leadership negotiated long ago. It is too bad that you have not taken the time to deal with it sooner.


“I am glad that you are now having this discussion. You have not, as a leadership, led, you have ignored what you agreed to. If anyone has lied by omission or by not explaining to membership, it is not this Board who have agreed to automation, it was the ILWU years ago. In exchange for that, and I’m not saying it was a bad contract, you received the wonderful benefits you have today. That, however, is not part of what we are voting on today. That fact does not change with all this name-calling. If you really want to help your membership, leadership needs to step up and do the right thing. Inform your membership and then work on a solution. I urge you to become part of the solution, and start working on a solution that will integrate the workforce with the automation that is coming, in many forms.”

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