Whether electric-powered automated cargo handlers can be used at the Port of Los Angeles is expected to be decided Thursday by the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which will reconsider an appeal by the union local that represents dockworkers.
In June, the board voted 3-2 to authorize the Danish firm Maersk, the world’s biggest container shipping company and one of the major cargo operators at the Port of Los Angeles, to bring in several automated cargo carriers that move shipping containers between ships and trucks. The equipment would be used at the port by Maersk subsidiary APM Terminals.
A week later, at the urging of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the adjacent port communities, the council vetoed the commission’s action. Hundreds of dockworkers packed the council chamber for the vote.
The council’s vote sent the issue back to the Harbor Commission for further discussion.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13 that represents dockworkers at the port contends that environmental reports submitted by APM regarding the equipment were insufficient, but the port staff that reviewed them disagreed.
Shipping company officials, meanwhile, insist they are contractually permitted to bring in automated equipment, regardless of a city permit.
“The Level I Permit is narrow in scope. It addresses approximately $1.5 million of minor infrastructure improvements to an existing multibillion-dollar operating marine terminal facility,” Peter Jabbour, vice president and general counsel for APM, wrote in a letter to the board on July 5.
The letter referenced a report that stated the port already uses automated technology and has seen an increase in jobs and wages from its use.
“More recently, in 2002, the ILWU and the (Pacific Maritime Association) entered into an historic collective bargaining agreement providing for the widespread introduction of technology into terminals,” the report stated. “Building on this framework, the parties agreed in 2008 to enable automation at port terminals. In the 2008 collective bargaining agreement, the ILWU expressly recognized the rights of terminal operators to automate and acknowledged that such automation may result in loss of jobs within some classifications.”
Wim Lagaay, chairman of APM Terminals Pacific, sent a letter to the council and the mayor in June stating that the company has the contractual authority to install the automated equipment.
“APMT has the undisputed right under its lease and its collective bargaining agreement to introduce automated technology of this sort and does not require and permit or any other port, city or state approval to operate automated, driverless trucks,” Lagaay wrote.
He said the council’s veto would not stop the automated equipment, but it would require the equipment to be powered by diesel motors, instead of cleaner electric motors.
About 12,000 people work at the Port of Los Angeles, and each day there are a number of work opportunities doled out among the employees. An estimated 500 work opportunities per day could be lost if the automated vehicles are brought in, according to the ILWU.
Diane Middleton, a Harbor Commission member who dissented in the panel’s original permit vote, said during the City Council’s June 28 meeting that the move will “lead to a tremendous loss of business.” She said if 500 work opportunities are lost per day, that could translate into $200,000 lost per day to the local economy or $52 million a year.
Dozens of politicians have put their support behind the veto, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
City Council President Herb Wesson set the tone during the meeting when the veto vote was cast.
“It is important that we do the job that the people hired us to do, and people may not at times believe this, but we are in the people business. That is our job,” Wesson said. “So I can say without hesitation or pause, to the ILWU, that we got you.”