Automation Looms Over Ports as Supply Chain Issues Linger - Bloomberg

2022-06-16 19:13:57 By : Ms. Amy Fang

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As supply-chain snarls linger, a decades-long clash is again playing out between port operators and their well-paid workers.

Shipping containers stacked on a vessel at the Port of Los Angeles.

With representatives for operators of 29 West Coast ports and the 22,000 dockworkers who man them in talks, a familiar issue is looming over the bargaining table: automation. On one side, more than 70 terminal operators and ocean carriers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) have long pitched modernization as a cure for global trade frictions such as the ones that led to shortages of everything from hospital gloves to air-conditioner parts over the past two years. Facing off against them is the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), which claims that relying more on machines than on human workers will further boost companies’ profits while killing well-paying union jobs.

The two sides have been having the man-vs.-machine debate for at least six decades. But the current negotiations are drawing particular attention after pandemic-era supply chain chaos highlighted just how important efficient port operations are to the nation’s economic well-being.