James Devine says he isn’t trying to pick a fight with the International Longshoremen’s Association, but he may face one over plans to introduce labor-saving technology at an expanded Global Terminals in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
ILA President Harold Daggett said the union will demand job guarantees in connection with Global’s planned introduction of automated stacking cranes in its container yard and optical character recognition technology at the Bayonne, N.J., terminal’s truck gates.
“We’re going to fight it any way we can,” Daggett said. “The men are not going to stand by and let an automated terminal come in, knowing they’re going to lose their jobs, knowing they’re getting their walking papers.”
He said he would insist the company promise to retain existing jobs. “That’s the way we’ll solve this,” Daggett said. “I’m not going to allow them to build a fully automated terminal that eliminates jobs.”
Devine, CEO of Global parent GCT USA, in November sent the ILA formal notice of plans to introduce new technology at Global, which is being expanded to 170 acres from the current 100. The expansion is set for completion in April 2014.
The ILA’s coastwide master contract requires employers to provide 180-day notice of plans for labor-saving technology. Under the contract, the union can’t block introduction of the technology but can negotiate the impact on jobs. That contract expires next Sept. 30, and Daggett has taken an aggressive stance leading up to negotiations that likely will begin early in the year.
Daggett is a longtime critic of container terminal automation, which he sees as a threat to jobs. In a speech after his election as ILA president last July, he declared, “We are against automation in the United States on the East Coast and West Coast.”
The container yard at Global’s new acreage will use automated rail-mounted stacking cranes similar to those APM Terminals installed in 2006 at a Portsmouth, Va., facility now owned by the Virginia Port Authority.
Global’s new and existing sections will share a truck gate equipped with optical-recognition scanners like those used at a few other U.S. terminals, including Maher Terminals in New York-New Jersey. Except for the common gate, Global’s existing footprint will continue to use rubber-tire gantry cranes driven by longshoremen.
The planned technology will put Global in the vanguard of U.S. terminals but falls well short of what several European terminals have employed for years. Terminals in Rotterdam and Bremerhaven, for example, use automated guided vehicles to shuttle containers between dockside cranes and container stacks.
Devine said Global is not trying to eliminate longshore jobs willy-nilly or introduce technology for technology’s sake. He said the goal is to make Global more competitive, and labor-saving equipment is the only way to do it.
“We have not sought to bring in available technology simply for the purpose of eliminating jobs, which we could have done,” he said. “We’re implementing technology to improve the density, to improve the performance of a limited piece of real estate.”
Even after expansion, Global’s 170-acre footprint will be barely half that of the port’s next-smallest major terminal, Port Newark Container Terminal. “Within our relatively small footprint, we have to become more efficient, and the way to do that is with significantly more density,” Devine said.
Global is the only major New York-New Jersey container terminal outside the Bayonne Bridge, whose 151-foot vertical clearance is an obstacle to large ships. That advantage will vanish in 2016 when the port authority plans to complete a $1 billion project to raise the bridge’s roadway to 215 feet.
Devine wouldn’t specify the cost of Global’s expansion and modernization but said it would be “well north of $200 million.” Work has started on a 900-foot wharf extension to 2,500 feet. Devine said the OCR-equipped gate system is scheduled to open by early 2013 and the new terminal’s yard is targeted for completion by April 14, 2014.
In addition to container-handling efficiencies, the terminal’s expanded portion “will be as green as green can be,” Devine said. Wind-powered turbines will be installed to help supply electrical power for the terminal’s equipment.
He said the automated stacking cranes would reduce the potential for death and injury by reducing workers’ exposure to moving machinery. “It’s going to be a much safer, cleaner operation,” he said.
“We’re going to work hand-in-glove with the longshore community, which we have tremendous respect for, to improve their safety,” Devine said. “I’ve been in the business a long time, and I’ve been to too many funerals. The vast majority of funerals I’ve been to for longshore personnel have been the result of accidents in the container yard, because of the proximity of workers and machines. We’ll be eliminating one of the biggest sources of injury in our industry.”
Devine said he sympathizes with the ILA’s desire to preserve jobs, “but we do need to evolve. The history of our industry has been an evolution in the size of the ships, an evolution in the technology we bring to the terminals. This is just another turn of the evolution. The bigger concern for the ILA, if we don’t continue to evolve and improve productivity, is the loss of business for this port.”