POLB to study impact of port's automation on city as fears of job cuts mount

THE Long Beach City Council has ordered the city's harbour department to carry out a study on the economic impact of port automation on the city

27 August 2019 - 19:00

THE Long Beach City Council has ordered the city's harbour department to carry out a study on the economic impact of port automation on the city.

It's the latest in a series of studies and legislation proposals concerning automation following a failed attempt by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) to prevent APM Terminals from installing robotic equipment at its terminal at Pier 400 in the neighbouring port of Los Angeles, reported New York's FreightWaves.

According to Long Beach councilman Rex Richardson, transition to automation at the port of Long Beach 'has a lot of people on edge'. Acquired in April by a consortium led by Macquarie Infrastructure Partners, the massive Long Beach Container Terminal in the port's middle harbour is one of the most automated in the US.

Mr Richardson said the city wants to know if higher levels of automation at the port of Long Beach is likely to be a 'five- or 40-year conversation' and 'if automation were to be fully realised, what does that mean? Are we looking at a port that doesn't have very many connections to local jobs?'

Mayor Robert Garcia said there was no industry more important to Long Beach than the port and that the discussion about port automation 'is really about a broader discussion of what the future of work in this country and in this world actually looks like.

'We are in grave danger as a nation of getting so far ahead with the way technology is automating all of our jobs that we could hit, as a country, a major crisis when it comes to people's ability to find work to put food on the table for their families.'

While automation is affecting many industries, he said the issue of port automation is particularly important to Long Beach because it provides workers with good-paying jobs with good benefits.

Vice president of labour relations Chad Lindsay at the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers of ILWU members, said the study should consider the impact of automation on the competitive standing of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, particularly for 'discretionary cargo' that can move through more than one port to its eventual destination. He said a PMA study showed the jobs of 68,000 workers rely directly on discretionary cargo.

Mr Lindsay said the study should also look at automation's role in helping the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach comply with environmental goals.

ILWU marine clerk Rich Dines said the claims that automation is necessary to meet the goals of the two ports' Clean Air Action Plan were false and that renewable natural gas could be used to power port equipment instead of electricity and meet zero-emission standards adopted by the California Air Resources Board.

He and other speakers contended that automated terminals are not more productive than those that use ILWU members to operate equipment. Some speakers pointed to a 2018 McKinsey survey that the management consultants said, 'indicates that operating expenses at automated ports do indeed fall, but only by 15 to 35 per cent. Worse, productivity actually falls, by seven to 15 per cent.'

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of County Supervisors approved a proposal by one of its members to have the county study the potential economic impact of automation at the port of Los Angeles.


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