Dockworkers Protest Driverless Cargo Trucks at Port of L.A., Triggering Project’s Delay

Dockworkers Protest Driverless Cargo Trucks at Port of L.A., Triggering Project’s Delay

March 22, 2019– Mary Greeley News – A fierce struggle over automation has erupted at the Port of Los Angeles, as local union officials representing some 12,000 dockworkers demand that one of the world’s largest shipping firms abandon a plan to introduce driverless electric cargo trucks.

Shouting, whistling and jeering, more than 1,200 union members, local business owners and community activists packed a four-hour hearing Thursday before the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners. The board voted to postpone a construction permit for the automated system after an offer by Mayor Eric Garcetti to mediate the dispute.

“The decision before the board may have far-reaching impacts on the pace of automation at our port and could define how the port will compete and sustain jobs into the foreseeable future,” Garcetti wrote in a letter unveiled at the hearing.

The mayor called for a 28-day delay in deciding on the permit, adding that negotiations “should serve as the basis of a new task force to explore automation and its impacts on the future of the Port of Los Angeles and others across the state.”

Dockworkers Protest Driverless Cargo Trucks at Port of L.A., Triggering Project’s Delay

A 2008 International Longshore and Warehouse Union contract, renewed in 2015, explicitly allowed West Coast ports to continue automating. Two large terminals — one at the Port of Long Beach and one in Los Angeles — have already introduced the driverless vehicles known as UTRs, or utility tractor rigs.

But automation at the 484-acre facility operated for Denmark’s Moller-Maersk by APM Terminals is prompting an uproar from local union members who are having second thoughts about the current contract and believe the permit will lead to automation across all 12 of the port complex’s terminals.

APM officials decline to say how many jobs will be eliminated if what they call “self-guided container handling equipment” is introduced. Union officials say hundreds are at stake. One in nine jobs in the five-county region is linked to commerce flowing through the port complex, according to port officials.

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APM characterizes its proposed automated, battery-powered vehicles, which would replace diesel-fueled rigs, as a response to the port’s clean air rules. But union officials say APM could introduce manned electric vehicles instead.

“This proposal is not about clean air and streamlining business practices,” Mark Mendoza, president of ILWU Local 13 told the five-member commission. “It is about Maersk maximizing their profits at all costs.… It will ultimately ensure the economic demise of the Southern California region.”

Port staff members have recommended approving APM’s permit request to install infrastructure to support the automated vehicles, along with scaffolding for containers and an upgraded Wi-Fi system. Economic impact is not part of the permit process, which falls under the port’s coastal land-use plan, port officials said.

“Robots do not pay taxes,” Local 13 Vice President Gary Herrera told the hearing, as hundreds in the audience rose to their feet applauding and yelling approval. “Robots do not shop in our communities. Robots do not vote!”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn urged the board to block the automation plan, saying, “I support reduced pollution, but we do not need to automate to achieve it.” She added that the ports “are prime targets for terrorism. Our dockworkers are the first line of defense. There’s nothing like a pair of human eyes and ears.”

Mary Greeley News

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Dockworkers Protest Driverless Cargo Trucks at Port of L.A., Triggering Project’s Delay