The South Carolina Port Authority (SCPA) offered extended gate hours at the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals this week following a labor slowdown on Friday January 27. The terminals remained open until 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday of this week in an effort to cope with issues from Friday as well as deal with higher than usual rail volumes.
The slowdown last Friday was organized by the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) local mechanics union as a protest against terminal automation. In June 2016 the SCPA went live with an automated gate system at the Wando Welch Terminal and this protest occurred just prior to when testing of the new technology was to begin at the North Charleston Terminal. Labor unions are concerned the new technology will eliminate jobs.
On Friday terminal workers at the Wando Welch Terminal refused to use the new gate system that uses optical character recognition cameras to inspect chassis, forcing truck drivers to stop for manual chassis inspections. This protest caused severe congestion, truckers reported moving less than 50 yards in a half hours time.
The SCPA met with the mechanics union over the weekend and it is expected the issue will not happen again. In other ports that have introduced new technology an agreement was put in place with the ILA promising jobs would not be impacted.
Currently the SCPA is testing the new gate system on a single lane at the North Charleston Terminal, testing will run through February 10 and on February 11 all lanes will begin to use the technology.
Automation at terminals is a concern that the ILA is prioritizing as new contract negotiations begin on the East and Gulf coast. Congestion due to protests against new technology will need to be mitigated through the assurance by the Port Authority that jobs will not be in jeopardy. Terminal workers will need to undergo ongoing training to be able to perform jobs with the assistance of the new systems.