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APM Terminals’ controversial plans to automate LA facility move a step ahead

APM Terminals’ bitter fight with unions in California to try and automate some of its operations at the Port of Los Angeles moved a step closer yesterday amid angry scenes.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve more automation at the Maersk facility on the US west coast with many protesting members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on hand waving placards with messages such as ‘Robots don’t pay taxes’ and ‘Robots don’t vote’.

APM Terminals has been pushing to obtain a permit to introduce driverless electric cargo handlers at its Los Angeles terminal.

After the vote, city councilman Joe Buscaino said he would introduce a motion today asking the 15-member city council to veto the harbour commission’s decision.

APM Terminals has argued the 130 unmanned vehicles and related infrastructure it plans to install next month will ensure that the west coast port stays competitive with east coast and Gulf coast ports.

The battle between workers and the European terminal operator has been rumbling on for many months with big marches through the streets of San Pedro earlier this year. Unions argue around 500 jobs will go from the automation process.

Even if the city council decides not to veto the automation decision, California’s legislature could step in. A bill introduced Monday by Democrat assemblyman Mike Gipson would give jurisdiction over port automation to the three-member State Lands Commission, consisting of the lieutenant governor, state controller and director of finance.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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