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Score one for humans. LA City Council rejects APM automation permit

PortandTerminal.com, July 1, 2019

The Los Angeles City Council on Friday voted unanimously to veto the construction permit for an automation project at APM Terminals’ Pier 400

Los Angeles, CA – Siding with dockworkers fearful of losing their jobs to robots, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously 12-0 on Friday to overrule a permit that would have allowed for the use of automated driverless trucks at one of the Port of L.A.’s largest terminals.

What the Los Angeles City Council rejected

A driverless, electric-powered vehicle at the Long Beach Container Terminal. Similar automation has been proposed for the Port of Los Angeles, sparking a bitter protest from union workers. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

The council unanimously vetoed an action by the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners, which last week authorized Maersk to bring in automated cargo carriers that move containers between ships and trucks at its Pier 400 terminal.

Maersk argues that the 130 unmanned vehicles and related infrastructure it planned to install would ensure that the Los Angeles port stays competitive with East Coast and Gulf Coast facilities, which have captured a growing share of the market in recent years.

Maersk’s reaction

“This is about productivity”

“This is about productivity,” said Wim Lagaay, president of Maersk’s APM Terminals in North America. Los Angeles dockworkers work 16 hours a day, whereas the unmanned vehicles can operate 24 hours a day, he said.

“Los Angeles dockworkers work 16 hours a day, whereas the unmanned vehicles can operate 24 hours a day”

Maersk and port officials who supported the permit say that blocking automation will accelerate the loss of market share by ports in L.A. and Long Beach to ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

Maersk — says it will proceed with its automation plan anyway, throwing into doubt the validity of the council’s action.

Maersk has declined to say how many jobs would be affected by replacing current cargo carriers with unmanned vehicles. Nor has the company elaborated on what other jobs at its terminal are likely to be automated.

“Preventing port terminals from evolving to keep pace with the global economy and to combat climate change threatens to cause long-term damage to jobs, tax revenue, and economic vitality for all of California,” the Pacific Maritime Assn. said in a statement.

Union’s reaction

“Robots don’t pay taxes. Robots don’t vote”

Hundreds of union dockworkers have protested for months against the permit, arguing it will cost them their jobs.

The permit requested by Maersk raises “a greater issue over the future of work in the port complex,” said Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents neighborhoods around the port. “This project has been shoved down the throats of the ILWU and the community.”

“Longshoremen don’t like automation, but let’s come up with a plan that’s more socially responsible”

Ray Familathe, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 13

In April and May, more than 1,200 dockworkers marched through the streets of San Pedro and thronged commission meetings, waving U.S. flags and hoisting signs saying “Robots don’t pay taxes,” and “Robots don’t vote.

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