Terminal automation is expected to be the main topic of concern in the negotiations for the new US East and Gulf Coast dockworker contract.
The current agreement between the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) expires September 30, 2018. Negotiations will begin early this year for the replacement contract.
There are two levels to the negotiations, the master contract that covers wages and coast wide issues and the local contracts which cover port specific issues. In the past, the master contract would be confirmed months prior to the close of local contracts.
For the upcoming contract the ILA, representing union workers, is going to ensure local contracts are agreed upon prior to the ratification of the master contract. This will avoid local ports losing leverage on port specific concerns and may help eliminate port disruptions and congestion caused by labor strikes.
The president of the ILA, Harold Daggett, will highlight the union’s concern about fully automated terminals in a meeting this February with the USMX. This meeting will be informal and both sides will have the opportunity to address concerns prior to formal negotiations.
The ILA is concerned that fully automated terminals will eliminate jobs. Workers are fully accepting of semi-automated terminals that will help with efficiencies and safety. They are willing to undergo any training required to assist in these transitions.
Daggett states the ILA is willing “to work with our management partners keeping our industry strong and vibrant, but will not submit to agreeing on anything that eliminates jobs”.
Currently there are no terminals that are fully automated on the East Coast. An example of automation that does exist is the Port of Virginia and GCT Bayonne terminal in New York that use remote-controlled cranes for stacking containers. The ILA is concerned that this trend will continue during the period of the next contract so protecting jobs is the top priority.