May 23, 2012
Longshoremen’s Union has Signed Off on Need to Move to Future, Eliminating a Major Obstacle to Automation
SCDigest Editorial Staff
The Pacific Maritime Association, an organization of port terminal operators, ocean carriers, logistic firms that handles labor relations and contract
It has been a tough few years for once high-flying West Coast ports, starting with major congestion issues in LA/Long Beach in 2005 and 2006 that caused many shippers to move more containers to not only other West Coast ports but also alternative locations such as Houston.
The recession saw a steep decline in container volumes, as global trade was hit even harder than the general economy. The report, however, says that in 2011, total traffic finally returned to just under 2008 levels, though still well below the peak reached in 2007.
In 2011, about 15 million loaded TEU were handled at West Coast ports. That was up just 1.5% while total revenue tonnage also notched up a modest 2.4% over 2010.
The report is optimistic about the future of West Coast ports despite concern in some quarters that when the expanded Panama Canal opens near the end of 2014, it will drain off a significant number of containers that would once move through the West Coast.
A key strategy, the report says, is for the ports to invest now in automation that will speed handing of the containers, and to create more capacity before a crunch really hits down the road.
“West Coast terminal operators are preparing to automate on a scale not yet seen in the United States,” the report says, a move driven by not only the threat from the Canal expansion but the growing dominance of megaships, which will take extra long to unload if the status quo is maintained.
To make these improvements, however, requires cooperation and contractual permission from the Longshoremen’s union (IWLU). The report says that the union has recognized the right of terminal operators to automate cargo-handling equipment, while the PMA in return has provided assurances that maintenance and repair work on automated cargo-handling equipment be handled by the ILWU. The report says that PMA members are committed to training the ILWU workforce in the maintenance and repair of future and forthcoming automated equipment as an offset to the loss of some traditional longshore jobs resulting from the automation.
(Global Supply Chain Article Continued Below)