ILA suspends labor talks amid automation dispute

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ILA suspends labor talks amid automation dispute
The International Longshoremen’s Association represents more than 85,000 maritime workers in the US, including those at the Port of Long Beach (photo). Photo from the Port of Long Beach website.
  • Talks between the International Longshoremen’s Association and management in East Coast and Gulf Coast ports bog down
  • The biggest ports union in North America claims Maersk is using automation to displace workers
  • The ILA said US Maritime Alliance members were unilaterally circumventing their coast-wide Master Contract, in clear violation of their existing agreement
  • Logistics companies and shippers are concerned about the risk of a strike, with more cargo orders for peak shipping season moving back to West Coast ports

Negotiations over a new labor contract between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the US Maritime Alliance (USMX), which represents terminal operators and ocean carriers, were suspended this week.

In a media release, the ILA said it cancelled talks with ports management after finding out that APM Terminals and Maersk had been turning to automated technology to process trucks at port terminals without use of union labor.

Representing some 85,000 members at East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, the ILA is the largest union of maritime workers along the East Coast, Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Great Lakes, and major US rivers. Its contract with the USMX will expire on September 30.

APM is the parent company of Maersk, the world’s second largest shipping company.

The union expressed serious concern at the growing use of the technology after the “auto gate” system was found to be in use at the Port of Mobile, Alabama.

In its release, the ILA said USMX members were unilaterally circumventing their coast-wide Master Contract, in clear violation of their existing agreement.

“There’s no point in trying to negotiate a new agreement with USMX when one of its major companies continues to violate our current agreement with the sole aim of eliminating ILA jobs through automation,” said ILA president Harold Daggett.

A Maersk spokesman, however, said in an email that APM Terminals remains “in full compliance with the ILA/USMX Master Contract.”

The spokesman said they were “disappointed” that the ILA was nitpicking details of current negotiations “in an effort to create additional leverage for their other demands.”

Despite this, Maersk will continue to engage with all stakeholders, including the ILA, to address their concerns, he said.

The ILA’s decision to stop talks was due to “ongoing negotiations of local agreements under the coast-wide Master Contract.”

Earlier, Daggett said he wanted a good economic deal for ILA members, including union opposition to port automation and exclusive port contracts for its members.

He said it was time for foreign companies like Maersk “to realize that you need us as much as we need you.”

The talks will remain suspended until the “auto gate” issue is resolved, according to the ILA.

Logistics companies and shippers have been showing concern about the risk of a strike, with more cargo orders for peak shipping season moving back to West Coast ports.

This is a critical time of year for consumer goods entering the US, and delays associated with longer transit times, container shortages, and weather adding to the logistical challenges ahead of back-to-school and holiday season.