LA Harbor commissioners deny longshore union appeal, pave way for automation at largest terminal in LA-Long Beach complex
L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino vows to fight decision and many believe issue will end up in court
The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners denied an appeal by the longshore union Thursday, June 20, paving the way for the largest terminal in the twin L.A.-Long Beach port complex to bring in automated equipment.
On a 3-2 vote, the commission denied an appeal that sought to block the approval of a permit application by APM Terminal. That permit, typically only requiring administrative approval, has now been OK’d.
But L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino said shortly after the vote that he will introduce a motion at Friday’s council meeting to override the commission’s decision. The council then will have five council days to take up the issue.
“We’re going to take this to City Hall,” Buscaino said outside the hall. “It ain’t over, it’s on.”
There was some speculation that from there, the matter would wind up in court.
The meeting was punctuated by catcalls and cheers as commissioners, one by one, laid out reasons for how they came to their votes.
Wim Lagaay, president & CEO of APM Terminals North America, in Charlotte, North Carolina, said the company welcomed the commission’s decision to support the permit issued by port Executive Director Gene Seroka.
The permit, he said, is “needed to utilize electric, clean-air equipment at Pier 400 (and) furthers the goals of the Port Master Plan.”
He said the company intends to work “closely” with the ILWU to “remain competitive, creating new highly-skilled jobs and business, and driving new economic growth for the Southern California port community while meeting the emissions requirements of the Clean Air Action Plan almost a decade before the regulations require.”
A large crowd representing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union gathered at the Cruise Terminal baggage handling facility (the gray dome next to the Battleship Iowa), in San Pedro, to protest the permit.
The much-anticipated vote followed months of emotionally charged debate over how automation will affect jobs in both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.
Voting to deny the union’s appeal — and to allow the permit to stand — were commission President Jaime Lee, and Commissioners Lucia Moreno-Linares and Edward Renwick.
In support of the union appeal were Commissioners Diane Middleton and Anthony Pirozzi, who cast his vote via a live link from Italy, where he’s been vacationing. Both argued the permit was at odds with portions of the port’s master plan and was part of an overall issue that would have serious impacts on port labor and economics in the future. It needed, they said, a much broader discussion.
Their three opposing colleagues all took a more narrow view of the decision, saying that issuing the permit was in compliance with the law.
The vote, said Lee, “is narrow in scope: Does this permit comply with our port master plan? I believe it does.”
Middleton called for a broader discussion on automation and how it will impact society.
“The impacts (being weighed) must include the decimation of the workforce and that’s what we’re talking about,” she said.
All of the commissioners, though, said it was a tough call.
“This is an incredibly difficult situation for us on the board,” Renwick said. “We have two very important partners arguing with each other and we’re, in some respects, caught in the middle.”
But, he added, “as an appointed representative, I have to follow the law.”
He also, however, took the terminal operators to task for submitting an application that he said failed to address the impacts on labor.
“This is not a good decision for the Port of Los Angeles,” Middleton said, saying the productivity studies show automated terminals lag behind worker-staffed sites.
The issue has sweeping implications, she continued.
“This is a battle for the survival of our community,” she said.
While the union acknowledged in its latest labor agreement that automation will soon come to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a January permit for the APM Terminal, run by Maersk, on Pier 400 to bring in some of the equipment set off a storm of protest.
The union appealed the signing of the permit. That led to a public hearing and months of debate. In the last two months, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has convened both sides in talks aimed at finding a way to move forward for both the terminal and union.
Asked about those talks that include provisions for retraining longshore workers, Buscaino said agreements so far have fallen far short, calling the training agreements “worthless.”
“We need to put that training on steroids,” he said. “I hope the 245 will allow both sides more time to come to the table.”
When the commission voted to deny the appeal, union members turned their backs on the panel. They then began to chant in unison: “245! 245!” which is the number of the charter section that allows the council to override commission votes.
At times, the audience shouted its disapproval and approval toward commissioners — “Go home!” “She doesn’t care about the community!” — but mostly they confined their responses to silent thumbs up and thumbs down gestures.