Port Moves Herald Shift Toward Further Automation

By DAVID GREENBERG
Staff Reporter

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are scheduled to play musical terminals next month and both maritime management and the dockworkers union will be closely watching.

Maersk Sealand will leave Long Beach on Aug. 15 for a 316-acre terminal at the Port of L.A. Around the same time, Hanjin Shipping Co., which already has facilities at Long Beach, will begin its move into a 288-acre site.

Both terminals are loaded with the kind of technology that is at the center of contract talks between the Pacific Maritime Association, the bargaining arm of the ship companies, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

It's the use of scanning systems for trucks and containers entering the terminal that has union officials worried. Shipping clerks manually track cargo and issue work assignments. Up to now, they have been protected by the ILWU.

Last week, the union rejected a PMA offer that would have raised wages about 17 percent over five years while cutting hundreds of clerk positions. Negotiations are expected to continue this week in San Francisco; the current contract, which was due to expire on July 1, is being extended on a day-to-day basis.

Union officials say they aren't against more modern facilities, which would add to cargo traffic, and with it, the prospect of more longshoremen jobs.

"If they think they are going to have enough cargo coming through to justify the investment they're making in these terminals, that will mean more work for longshoremen," said Steve Stallone, communications manager for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

But Stallone added that the implementation of a container tracking system will single-handedly eliminate 600 to 2,100 clerks positions coastwide numbers the PMA questions.

"Just intuitively, I don't know where he gets those numbers," said Jack Suite, the PMA's contract administrator. "He must have assumed that we would instantaneously implement all technology that is available. My response is that technology will be phased in over time it could be three years, it could be five years which mitigates the impact on jobs."

The trade group has guaranteed that all current dockworkers will keep their jobs until retirement and that clerks who lose their positions will be retrained for other responsibilities.

But there have been no guarantees about the next generation of clerks. Although the union recently agreed to allow computerized container tracking systems into the 29 West Coast ports under its jurisdiction, the Maersk and Hanjin terminals are wired for gadgetry that the ILWU has yet to approve.

They include optical scanning systems for trucks and containers entering the ports, which would enhance security and alleviate gridlock at terminal gates; and computerized work assignment systems allowing union members to call in or go online to find out ahead of time where they will be stationed.

"My impression of the (Maersk) terminal was extremely favorable," said John Joseph, senior manager of international transportation for Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands Inc., the nation's largest specialty retailer whose brands include Victoria's Secret, Express and Bath & Body Works. "The physical layout allows for the most logical and efficient through-put of any West Coast terminal. It's the kind of thing we need out there because we're out of land. So what you have to do is make the land you have as productive as possible."

The $304 million Maersk facility at L.A.'s Pier 400 is the first phase of what will be the world's largest single-operator container terminal, costing $473 million and covering 484 acres when it reaches full build-out in 2004.

Long Beach port officials plan to lease Maersk's current 110-acre site on Pier J to adjacent tenants, Stevedoring Services of America Terminals and China Ocean Shipping Co.

Hanjin will move into what will be a $576 million, 375-acre terminal on Pier T in Long Beach, with the first phase, a 288-acre site, scheduled for completion next month. The ship company already occupies the port's largest terminal a 170-acre facility on Pier A.

Democrats Supporting Dockworkers

By DAVID GREENBERG

Staff Reporter

Even before contract negotiations with maritime management broke down last week, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union flexed its political muscle by persuading congressional leaders not to have President Bush intervene.

Dozens of House and Senate Democrats sympathetic to the dockworkers union signed letters calling on Bush not to invoke the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, which would force an 80-day freeze on strikes or lockouts. This, in effect, forces both sides to continue talking.

"We feel it's important for the government to not be involved in the collective bargaining process," said Steve Stallone, communications manager for the ILWU. "We think it needs to be given its chance to run its course."

The lobbying effort came after maritime organizations sought congressional support for Taft-Hartley when it became clear a settlement would not be reached by the July 1 deadline.

The administration hasn't said how it would respond to a strike by the ILWU or lockout by the Pacific Maritime Association, the ship companies' bargaining arm, said Dan Nelson, a White House spokesman.

Should a work stoppage occur, however, industry officials said they expect Bush would act to forestall a prolonged job action.

"He'd step in. It's a no-brainer," said Robin Lanier, executive director of the West Coast Waterfront Coalition, a Washington trade group representing importers. "If there's a major shutdown so no ships are coming in or going out, assembly lines are shutting down, perishable goods are rotting on the dock, the retail industry can't get merchandise for Christmas and the stock market is reacting to this, Bush is going to look not good if he doesn't have a plan."

The letters to Bush were authored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and signed respectively by House and Senate Democrats from California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii the ILWU's jurisdiction states.

"In the real world the letters have no effect either way," said Jack Suite, the PMA's contract administrator, adding that he is optimistic a settlement can be reached. Suite would not speculate on the Bush administration's intentions.

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