Fight Over Automation at Port of LA's Pier 400

APMT's Pier 400 at Port of Los Angeles (APMT)

Published Jun 27, 2019 8:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

APM Terminals plans to bring all-electric automated straddle carriers to its Pier 400 facility in the Port of Los Angeles, and longshore union leaders have asked the city's council to intervene, citing the possibility that longshoremen will lose hundreds of shifts per day to the new robotic technology.

Since the terminal operator has the legal right to introduce automation technology, the ILWU seeks to block its permit to build the charging infrastructure for electric operation instead. LA's harbor commission has already approved APMT's permit application for the charging equipment, and last week it denied an appeal filed by the union. The city council has the ability to ask the port commission to reconsider, and it is expected to take up a motion on the matter Friday. 

APMT, for its part, says that the charging stations are not essential for its plan, and that it requires no further approval to introduce automated equipment at the facility. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's contract with West Coast port employers permits automation, and automated straddle carriers are already in use at the neighboring Port of Long Beach. If the city denies it the right to build infrastructure for electric operation, Maersk says, it will simply run the automated carriers using their (already-installed) diesel engines - adding more air pollution to the plan, but otherwise carrying on as it intended. 

“These improvements [covered by the permit] are all geared towards electrification and none are required for automation,” two top Maersk executives told L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti in a letter. “APMT has the undisputed right under its lease and its collective bargaining agreement to introduce automated technology of this sort and does not require any permit or any other port, city or state approval." 

Talks between the union and the terminal operator continued Thursday in hopes of reaching a compromise and avoiding a showdown at city council. With or without the city's blessing, APMT plans to bring in nearly 130 of the automated carriers, starting with about 30 this year. It says that the new units will reduce labor costs, cut turn times for trucks by two thirds and allow the terminal to transition to round-the-clock operation.