Tensions between ports and harbour workers are rising in the United States as contract negotiations drag on.
Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and employer group Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) are strained, with automation of container-handling machinery emerging as a major stumbling block.
The PMA wants to expand the use of remotely controlled cranes, claiming that “increasing automation will enable the largest West Coast ports to remain competitive, facilitate both cargo and job growth, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to meet stringent local environmental standards”.
The ILWU disputes the conclusion, arguing that port automation eliminates jobs.
In its 2002 contract, the ILWU agreed to computerised process automation. In 2008, in exchange for a nearly USD900 million addition to its pension fund and other retirement benefits, the union agreed that operators, at their discretion, could implement machine automation.
According to media analysis, in 2016, the TraPac terminal in Los Angeles became the first US port to automate. Since then, a portion of the APM Terminal facility in Los Angeles has been semi-automated and the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT) is nearing full automation.
The ILWU is asking operators to hold off on further automation in the San Pedro Bay ports.