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Diehard LA dockers indicate automation pacts of yore are no more

THE LA dockers' die-hard stand against Maersk's waterfront automation bid is the International Longshore and Warehouse Union signal to renege on agreements when the labour contract comes up for renewal in 2022, says a Journal of Commerce commentary

Diehard LA dockers indicate automation pacts of yore are no more

THE LA dockers' die-hard stand against Maersk's waterfront automation bid is the International Longshore and Warehouse Union signal to renege on agreements when the labour contract comes up for renewal in 2022, says a Journal of Commerce commentary

21 July 2019 - 19:00

THE LA dockers' die-hard stand against Maersk's waterfront automation bid is the International Longshore and Warehouse Union signal to renege on agreements when the labour contract comes up for renewal in 2022, says a Journal of Commerce commentary.

'What began as minor matter before the Los Angeles Board of Harbour Commissioners has mushroomed into a dispute that has shattered the facade of labour peace on the west coast,' writes JOC veteran observer Peter Tirschwell.



Under the 2008 contract, incorporated into subsequent agreements in 2015 and 2017, terminals not only have the right to automate, but dockworkers agreed to not interfere with implementation, he said.



'But for reasons that remain unclear, the ILWU reacted differently to plans for Pier 400, which were far less extensive than the automation put in place at the other terminals,' he said.



Thousands protested at Los Angeles Harbour Commission meetings considering a construction permit to install charging stations so planned automated straddle carriers could be electrified.



The union then took its protest to the Los Angeles City Council after the permit was initially approved by the port board.



The union also led an effort in the California State Legislature that would require a state agency to approve all automation projects on a case-by-case basis.



But what is more worrisome about the how the dispute has evolved is the reality that the union's actions may be just a prelude to something larger, an effort to actually unwind the automation provisions when the current contract comes up for renewal in 2022, Mr Tirschwell said.



Meanwhile west coast import market share in laden containers has dropped from 57 per cent to 48 per cent since 2005, according to IHS Markit. During that time, the engine of growth at the fastest-growing North American ports such as Savannah, Houston and Prince Rupert has been Asia imports, long the US west coast's bread-and-butter cargo.



The Canadian Port of Prince Rupert's master plan envisions six to seven million TEU capacity from one million TEU it handled in 2018, growth which in part will be driven by continued diversions from US ports, he said



'It may be three years until 2022 when the current contract expires, but un-negotiations have already begun,' Mr Tirschwell said.


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