- Contract negotiations have begun in advance of the 2018 expiration of the current master contract between the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) and the United States Maritime Alliance (USMX). The ILA is deeply concerned about full automation of container terminals around the U.S., American Shipper reported last week.
- The ILA has come out fighting on this issue, citing a New York Times article about 400,000 steel mill jobs lost not to export, but to automation. Furthermore, contract talks are now being watched closely since last year's International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) strike, which lasted for months and had significant impact on shipments. That strike raised the negotiating power of longshoremen, and the industry will apply pressure for settlement to avoid another strike.
- An industry consultant recently referred to ILA as luddites in a LinkedIn blog post, while other pundits question alternatives to automation for dealing with surging TEUs on post-Panamax ships.
The ILA may be fighting a losing battle against automation, but retraining must be considered as shipping embraces the new age of tech.
As the number vessels shrinks but their average sizes increase, thereby increasing the load capacity, the potential of automation will have a significant impact on loading and unloading containers. However, as in all industries where automation plays a growing role, it cannot be accomplished without skilled workers managing the equipment.
Currently, the work of a longshoreman is challenging and demanding in nature. Transforming physically demanding jobs into technologically skilled positions will not only improve safety, but also increase the working life of a port longshoreman. Automation doesn't have to be a zero sum game. Workers have to remain open to education and change, and port owners have to build in retraining options as upgrades occur.