UPDATE: 5/23/2022—ILWU has requested that contract negotiations with West Coast waterfront employers be suspended until June 1. Suspension will begin Friday, if it is granted. The White House has made it clear to both employers and the union that work slowdowns or employer lockouts will not be tolerated this year.
With seven weeks to go before ILWU longshoreman contract expiry, talks between labor and employer management at the West Coast terminals have now begun. The battleground is for higher wages and benefits, but the issue that will draw the most contention from labor is their fight to prevent further automation of the terminals.
Labor takes the position that this will cost jobs. Ironically, management cites a study showing the number of jobs has increased with the efficiencies of handling move volume through automation implemented in recent years. Harold Dagget, President of the ILA union for East and Gulf Coast ports, chimed in this week supporting the ILWU with his own claims that automation eliminates jobs. He further stated the ILA would not handle ships that come from fully automated terminals overseas, as if he can impact or prevent terminal automation globally.
Meanwhile, USA ports lag the world in quality and quantity of automated terminals. The unions are trying to hold us back. Our ports have become a chokepoint of congestion, unable to keep up with the spike in cargo volumes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This gives us a look into what the future will bring with our inability to handle ever-increasing global trade.
We need this automation. All the saber-rattling about loss of jobs is merely a leverage point to get the pay scale and added benefits that the ILWU and their East and Gulf coast counterparts seek in their upcoming contract renewal.