Better Late Than Never

Better Late Than Never

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

The maritime industry made great strides at West Coast ports last week when several rulings from an arbitrator cleared the way for old technology to be introduced into the job of handling cargo on the docks.

Yes, I said "old technology." The changes under way will introduce technology that is decades old but will nevertheless save substantial amounts of time and money compared with the 19th century paper-and-pencil work methods now used by union dockworkers.

All of this is made possible by the new six-year contract between the Pacific Maritime Association - a group of companies that employ dockworkers and clerks - and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The ILWU rank and file recently ratified the contract after a disastrous year of work stoppages and cargo backlogs.

Bill Mongelluzzo of our sister publication, The Journal of Commerce, reported in an online story that four rulings from arbitrator John Kagel "set the stage" for terminal operators to begin implementing technology. By my count, three of the rulings favored the employers and one favored the union.

First the bad news: Kagel ruled that each terminal-operating company must engage in separate arbitrations with the union to get permission to introduce a specific technology. You would think that the union's agreement to, an arbitrator's approval of and successful introduction of something as simple as a barcode scanner at one terminal ought to permit portwide use, but it won't.

Now the good news:

-- Separate arbitration will not be required for employers seeking permission to eliminate the manual rekeying of shipping documents filed from outside the terminal. The union wanted each terminal operator to seek permission separately, but the arbitrator ruled that the new contract already gives all terminal operators the right to eliminate rekeying. That's a victory against make-work and feather-bedding.

-- The union lost its bid to let marine clerks pick which five days of each week they wish to work. This might sound draconian, but the employers will be allowed to assign work days, preventing a clerk from choosing to work at a terminal on a day there is no work to be performed. But do not weep for them. The contract requires that every clerk will have a full-time job until reaching retirement age, even if technology decreases the need for clerks.

-- Employers won the right to begin using technology without first creating a contract-required "control center" where clerks will do their work when technology eliminates the need to stand at a port gate or at the head of a line of trucks picking up containers.

While these initial steps instituting technology are progress, they do not begin to make up for the losses that shippers suffered in last year's lockout or strike (I say po-TAY-to, you say po-TAH-to). But the prospect of faster and cheaper cargo turns are encouraging and both the ILWU and the PMA should be congratulated for these modest advances.

As a final note, I'd like to thank employees of Commonwealth Business Media Inc. - Traffic World and its sister publications and services - for putting their money where my mouth is. After I wrote an editorial honoring transportation and logistics professionals who are serving active duty in the National Guard and Reserves, CBMI Director of Creative Services Laura Kaiser launched a company campaign to raise money for the USO.

Laura raised $1,350, which was matched by CBMI Chairman, President and CEO Alan Glass, for a total of $2,700 that will be used to send Operation USO Care Packages to servicemen and women serving in the Middle East. Our modest effort was inspired by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's USO campaign. I challenge you to join the ARTBA campaign or start your own. For details, visit www.usocares.org/. Thanks.