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Study issued by US west coast ports employers association says automation creates work, a claim the ILWU refutes

A new study commissioned by the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents the shipping lines and terminal operators at US West Coast ports, says that automation at maritime terminals actually increases paid hours for employees, drawing criticism from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) a week ahead of labour negotiations between the parties.

The report, co-written by Michael Nacht, a professor of public policy at University of California at Berkeley, and Larry Henry, founder of ContainerTrac, indicates that paid hours at the automated terminals at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have increased 31.5% since 2015, over double the rate of the other, non-automated terminals at the same ports.

The authors emphasise that this finding is “contrary to the ILWU’s concerns” that automation replaces jobs. “Higher cargo throughput,” they say, “will create port-related jobs and add employment throughout the supply chain. Conversely, failing to adapt threatens to drive cargo to other ports, with a cascading loss of jobs on the docks and throughout the regional economy.”

Frank Ponce De Leon, a representative of the ILWU, responded with a series of tweets. Acknowledging that the union had not yet seen the report, he said that, “based on the press release issued it’s apparent that the report is a self-serving document by one party to a labour contract, and even worse is an insult to all workers who have seen their jobs outsourced to machines.

“The bottom line is that automation has destroyed Longshore jobs. Container volume has increased at the automated terminals, but this has been at the expense of other terminals that have had an offsetting drop in container volume.”

Labour negotiations between the PMA and ILWU will begin on May 12, with their contract ending on July 1. Automation is expected to be a key issue in the discussions.

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.


  1. It seems that the ILWU would prefer that we drive around in horse & carts and go back to using steam cranes to unload cargoes.
    Although I expect that they all use mobile phones and other technology when it suits them.
    Perhaps the various commissions investigating container line practices during COVID could also address US port productivity and the lack of 24 hour working – instead of hounding the carriers?

  2. The argument over increased mechanisation causing job losses has been around for over 200 years now. yet the same arguments still keep popping up, I now it may not be nice if you are one of the dock workers in this case, but in reality to remain competitive all of us have little option than making improvements to what we do and how we do it?

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