Contentious hearing unfolds on automation at Port of Los Angeles
- The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners held a nearly four-hour public hearing last week on a proposed plan by APM Terminals to automate some aspects of the cargo handling process. Prior to the meeting, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti released a letter asking the board to take 28 days to consider both sides of the argument.
- Dozens of people spoke against the planned automation at the meeting, saying they are worried about the potential impact automation could have on their jobs. "This proposal is not about clean air and streamlining business practice, it’s about Maersk maximizing their profits at all cost necessary," said Mark Mendoza, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13. APM Terminals is a Maersk company.
- Council for APM Terminals, Peter Jabbour, said there is no legal reason for the board to grant an appeal filed by the union against the project last year. The board should just consider the environmental impact, Jabbour said. "Objections to automation, generally, are not part of the coastal development process," he said. "The port and the larger community should embrace this without the fear of change."
On Nov. 5, 2018, APM Terminals applied for a permit with the Harbor Department for seaside development, which must be approved given its proximity to the coastal zone.
APM Terminals said in the application the development was necessary for the operation of battery powered equipment. The company is interested in using autonomous, electric cargo movers, according to multiple media reports and statements from ILWU members at the hearing.
"Infrastructure changes include installation of charging stations for the equipment, installation of permanent scaffolding to create a vertical racking system for the refrigerated containers, installation of traffic barriers and fencing for drayage hauler safety and the installation of some small antenna poles to enhance the existing Wi-Fi network," APM Terminals wrote in its application. The company said transitioning to electric or hybrid vehicles will help to reduce the terminal's emissions.
The issue has drawn considerable attention since federal, state and local politicians filed statements before last week's hearing. And hundreds of signatures were collected in opposition to the automation plan and in support of ILWU Local 13.
"Transitioning the largest terminal on the country's largest port to full automation will have major and significant impacts on the Port and surrounding environment," Gary Herrera, the vice president of ILWU Local 13, said at the hearing. "This Board should consider those impacts."
APM Terminals pointed to its contract with the union, which says APM Terminals is allowed to introduce automation.
When asked about this by one of the Commissioners, Herrera acknowledged this was the case.
"You don’t have the right to talk about our contract and I’m not asking you to negotiate it," he said. "I’m here as a community talking about the economy, the devastation to our jobs, businesses, our homes … we do know it's in our contract, but I’m here as a community member."
Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Eugene Seroka spoke briefly at the end of the public hearing and said the issue requires "some thoughtfulness that goes beyond the letter of the law" and said the port plans to do an evaluation of these issues.
"Based on all the research I’ve done as an industry professional person and what we’ve commissioned to do that in the coming years, pick a year, the volume through this port complex will double and we will need each and every one of you more than ever," Seroka said.
The board voted to approve the 28-day extension suggested by Mayor Garcetti, during which time more discussions and negations will take place on the project. The first planned meeting after the 28-day window is on May 2.
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