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Home » Ports » As ports automate union jobs, some workers are cheering on the robots

As ports automate union jobs, some workers are cheering on the robots

Semi-trucks seen at the Port of Seattle, Jan. 31, 2018.

As it turns out, not all port workers are unhappy to see the “robots” start work at the Port of Los Angeles

PortandTerminal.com, November 9, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA – Last July, The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted Thursday to allow the biggest tenant at the Port of Los Angeles, shipping company Maersk, to bring in automated electric-powered cargo handlers.

Hundreds of union dockworkers had protested for months against granting Maersk the permit, arguing it will cost them their jobs. In the end, they were unable to stop the project because, in exchange for higher pay and better benefits over the years, ILWU contracts have explicitly allowed for automation.

As it turns out, not all port workers are unhappy to see the “robots”, or in this case, automated electric-powered cargo handlers, come in to speed things up.

An article by the Los Angeles Time this week profiled the reaction of non-unionized truckers working at the port who are indeed very happy to see more efficient, automated cargo handling advances at the Port of Los Angeles.

ILWU dockworkers vs Truckers

Port truck drivers wait in line. Truckers are generally paid by the load, not by the hour, so increased port efficiency and turn-around times make pocketbook sense to them.

On one side are well-paid union members, many of them third- and fourth-generation dockworkers.

On the other side is the nonunion, largely immigrant and Spanish-speaking workforce of independent contractors, who lack the hourly pay, overtime guarantees, pensions, healthcare insurance and job security that ILWU workers enjoy.

Truckers are paid by the load, so it’s in their financial best interest to see that the loading and offloading of containers onto their trucks is done as quickly as possible. When containers get loaded unto a truck quickly, the driver gets a shot at making more pickups, more deliveries and more money.

We sit in line while they take two-hour breaks. With automation, we don’t have that problem.”

Trucker expressing frustration with unionized workers at Port of Los Angeles

The ILWU members, who transfer cargo from ships to trucks and direct terminal traffic, “don’t care about the drivers,” said one driver interviewed by the LA Times. “Never. We sit in line while they take two-hour breaks. With automation, we don’t have that problem.”

For example, PortandTerminal.com found that half of the unionized forklift operators at one port earned $100k+ a year. Compare that to the $52,800 average salary a truck driver at Port of Los Angeles earns and you begin to see the reason for the animosity.

Added another trucker: “Hopefully automation kicks in and then all these lazy … longshoremen start collecting unemployment.”

Of course, driverless trucks may change that dynamic as well in the not too distant future.

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