Update: July 10, 2019: The California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve the bill. The approved motion says the bill will now move to the Appropriations Committee.
- The California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee will consider AB 1321, legislation which would give authority to the State Lands Commission to approve all port automation projects, Tuesday.
- It would also require the Commission to submit an annual report on all of the automation projects it approved. The bill was introduced by California Assembly member Mike Gipson (D-L.A.).
- The bill says the Commission should consider potential job losses when deciding whether an automation project should be approved. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has been fighting an automation project at Port of Los Angeles' Pier 400 — the largest terminal at the nation's largest port — because the union is fearful of the potential jobs losses that would result.
"The state recognizes the significance of planning for the impacts automated technology will have on our state and local economies and on all the people who live, work, own businesses, and shop in the state," the bill reads.
This legislation passed the Assembly in May with a vote of 66 to 5 — nine members did not register a vote. This allowed the bill to pass to the Senate where it will now be considered by the Committee in Tuesday's hearing.
But despite the strong approval from the Assembly, there has been opposition to the proposal.
The California Chamber of Commerce sent letters last month to both Gipson and the Natural Resources and Water Committee opposing the legislation. The Chamber argues the current collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the ports allows for automation projects without state approval.
"We are also concerned that such legislative action could interfere with efficient operations at our ports and result in further delays to our intermodal transportation system," the letter reads.
The Pacific Maritime Association also introduced a letter voicing opposition to the bill, saying its overly broad definition of automation could require approval for technology such as vending machines and parking payment kiosks. The Pacific Marine Shipping Association argues the legislation would hamper technology investment, according to a government analysis of the bill released last week.
But these business groups are up against a union that has a lot of clout in the state of California. Five different ILWU chapters have voiced support for the legislation along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific, and more than a dozen other organizations and 107 individuals, according to the same bill analysis.
The ILWU previously lobbied the Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners and the Los Angeles City Council to stop an automation project proposed by APM Terminals.
Research by Moody's suggests port automation can increase efficiency and throughput, but it also results in job losses, lowering labor requirements at facilities by 40%-70%. Many ports are operated by political bodies and allowing automation that results in significant job losses is a political cost many politicians may want to avoid.
A final decision on the APM Terminal project has not yet been reached. It was initially approved by the Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission, but this was vetoed by the Los Angeles City Council earlier this month. The Harbor Commission will consider the measure at its meeting Thursday.