Automating port terminals causes a domino effect, claims union

Automating port terminals causes a domino effect, claims union

The Load Star — 2023-04-04

Maritime and Ports

New automated terminals create “an intensified competitive market” that forces existing local terminals to follow suit, a union has claimed.

The International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU), which has been locked in contract negotiations with representatives of the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association, sees automation as a key issue.

The talks have already stalled, with the union asking for arbitration through the US Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which has appointed a mediator whose deliberations are due to start on 2023 April 13.

The negotiations for a new five-year deal were expected to be protracted, but the rush to arbitration was unexpected. ILWU president Rob Ashton told The Loadstar: “We felt the parties needed help and thought ‘why wait for a year and a half when we can try to get it done sooner?’.”

Key to negotiations in California, where contract talks have been going for a year, and in Canada, is the development of automated terminals, which substantially cut the number of jobs for dockers, saving on salaries, but also cutting union influence.

Mr Ashton said: “If the federal government approves Terminal 2 at Roberts Bank, that will force the conventional terminals we to automate just to keep up,” something already seen in other regions, he added.

We’ve seen that happen down in Long Beach, where one terminal automated and there’s been a waterfall effect. Now they have three, with a fourth a possibility.

An ILWU study from 2019, the Prism report, shows automation results in around a 90% reduction of workers at a greenfield terminal, while a brownfield site would see a loss of up to 50% of the workforce.