A survey by ILWU Canada said automation at the TraPac terminal in Los Angeles reduced the workforce 40-50 per cent and automation at the Long Beach terminal resulted in a reduction of 70-75 per cent.
Long Beach-based Total Terminals International, owned by the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) operating the 385-acre Pier T, met with the ILWU and announced its intention to automate the operation of Long Beach.
The union protested the loss of union jobs, saying that foreign-affiliated companies like TTI continue to promote full automation of their terminals.
'In our publicly owned US port operations, they need to remember that the port exists for US and local economic interests, not job destruction or maximum extraction for foreign interests,' the union said in a statement.
TTI did not respond to the request for comment.
The Port of Long Beach, like most US ports, is publicly owned, while terminals are leased to often for 60 years at a time.
MSC owns 80 per cent of TTI through its subsidiary Terminal Investment Limited. South Korea-based HMM owns the remaining 20 per cent, having purchased a portion of the 54 per cent that was owned by Hanjin which became bankrupt in 2017,
'ILWU represents American workers, businesses, farmers, communities and schools that depend not only on the movement of cargo, but also on the tax revenues generated by men and women working in the docks,' said local president Mike Podieu. 'Robots don't pay taxes - people do.'
Automation involves replacing manually operated stacking cranes, yard tractors and other cargo handling equipment with unmanned vehicles.
Pier T will be the fourth automated terminal in the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, including the Long Beach Container Terminal, one of the most advanced facilities in the world.
Pacific Maritime Association, the employer's association, argue that ports need to be upgraded to remain efficient and competitive. Combined with the ports of San Pedro Bay, it is the busiest complex in the United States.