Thursday, May 20, 2021

Longshore Union Speaks Out Against Automation of Port Container Terminal

Two Centuries After the Luddite Revolution the Same Arguments Rage
Shipping News Feature

US – Total Terminals International (TTI) met with leaders of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at the beginning of the week to announce that it intends to pursue automating Pier T at the Port of Long Beach. The move has prompted a backlash from the ILWU which has raised concerns about the impact on the US and local economies and on matters of cyber security. Ramon Ponce de Leon, ILWU Local 13 President, explained:

“While foreign-owned corporations like TTI continue to push to fully automate their terminal operations at our publically owned US ports, they need to remember that the ports exist for the benefit of the US and local economies, not the destruction of jobs and maximum extraction of foreign profit.”

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), based in Switzerland, owns 80% of TTI through its subsidiary, Terminal Investment Limited (TIL). The remaining 20% of TTI is owned by Hyundai Merchant Marine (HMM), based in South Korea.

The ILWU says that US ports are one of the United States’ greatest economic resources and support millions of jobs and businesses nationwide. Although most US ports are publically owned, marine terminals are often leased to foreign companies that the ILWU says are being optimised for foreign profits over domestic benefit. Mike Podue, ILWU Local 63 President, commented:

“The ILWU stands for America’s workers, businesses, farmers, communities and schools that rely on the ports not only for the movement of cargo but also for the tax revenue that’s generated by the men and women who work on the docks. Robots don’t pay taxes, people do.”

The comments say a lot about the widely different attitudes to modernising and digitalising the supply chain. The Luddite union stance is understandable but every facet of logistics is having to modernise to keep pace with the changing state brought about by things such as ecommerce where speed, efficiency and cost are everything.

The matter of automation is always a sensitive subject. The pros are said to include increased productivity, accuracy, safety, and enhanced digital capabilities to name a few. The ILWU says the greatest impact of automation would be on the current employees whose jobs it says will ‘undoubtedly be on the line’. Whilst retraining is option for many, not everyone will take up the opportunity.

Another issue of concern for the union centres on cyber security. As evidenced last week with Colonial Pipeline and Ireland’s health system shutting down after being held hostage for ransom by Russian hackers, cyber terrorism continues to be both a national and international threat. The ILWU raises the spectre of fully automated ports which could leave the nation’s economic engine and the economy even more vulnerable to such foreign attacks. ILWU Local 94 President Danny Miranda, said:

“Although the ILWU recognises the need for responsible advancements that reduce our carbon footprint and improve efficiencies, any efforts to automate port terminals for the primary purpose of increased offshore corporate profits comes at a cost that our local communities and country cannot afford.

“As the Long Beach Harbor Commission, the Mayor of Long Beach, and the Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach consider TTI’s request, we ask that it carefully weigh the impacts that continued automation would have on American jobs and our local communities.”

Photo: An image of workers in 1811-1816 smashing factory machines with sledgehammers during the Luddite revolution in the Midlands and North of England.