An International Longshoremen’s Association demonstration outside a New Jersey container terminal may be a hint of things to come as the ILA gears up for bargaining on a new contract covering Atlantic and Gulf ports.
The Jan. 6 rally had a twofold purpose. Besides protesting plans for labor-saving technology at an expanded Global Terminals in Bayonne, N.J., ILA officials were signaling their plans to raise technology as an issue in negotiations on a new contract to replace the one that expires Sept. 30.
Harold Daggett, elected ILA president last July, has criticized terminal automation and vowed to resist it at Global and elsewhere. Daggett organized the Global rally but didn’t attend because of a schedule conflict.
Employers say restricting the ability of terminals to update technology is a nonstarter. They say East and Gulf Coast ports must be able to apply technology to handle growth in cargo and generate the productivity needed to attract port investment.
Global plans to install remote-controlled rail-mounted gantry cranes on 70 acres it is adding to its 100-acre terminal, along with scanners using optical character recognition technology at a truck gate serving the terminal’s new and existing sections.
James Devine, chief executive of Global parent GCT, said technology is necessary to ensure the terminal can compete with limited space. Even after its expansion is finished in 2014, Global will have barely half the acreage of the port’s next-smallest container terminal, Port Newark Container Terminal. He also cited the safety benefits of reduced worker exposure to hazardous machinery.
The ILA’s coastwide master contract allows employers to introduce new technology on six months’ notice. The ILA cannot block implementation but may negotiate the impact on jobs.
ILA officials at the Global rally said they would seek to negotiate employment guarantees in exchange for technology they fear would eliminate work in terminal yards and at truck gates staffed by union clerks and checkers.
“I believe Global has an agenda to displace jobs,” said Dennis Daggett, president of the ILA’s Atlantic Coast District and son of the union’s president. “We’re concerned because we weren’t part of the discussions between the port authority and Global Terminals” over automation plans.
Global plans to install the rail-mounted gantries in the terminal’s new section but continue to use rubber-tire gantries driven by ILA workers in the terminal’s existing yard. But Virgil Maldonado, president of Local 1588 in Bayonne, said he’s concerned the technology eventually will be installed throughout Global and elsewhere.
“We’ve been to other terminals that have gone through this process and seen how it eliminates jobs,” Maldonado said. “We want guarantees to protect jobs that allow members to earn a decent living.”