Biden's supply-chain envoy, Stephen Lyons, has stated that automation in the ports and logistics industry is inevitable and should be embraced as a means of enhancing productivity and efficiency. This statement comes amidst protracted contract talks between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association over a new labor agreement to replace one that expired in July. The talks had hit a logjam for a “little while” but are moving along again, with discussions now focused on provisions such as automation, said Lyons in a separate interview.
Automation and Its Impact on Jobs
The issue of automation has been a sticking point in the negotiations between the two parties. While research by the Pacific Maritime Association last year concluded that automation can be part of the solution to speeding up cargo processing, a separate study by the Economic Roundtable that was underwritten by the ILWU said that automated ports are less productive and eliminate jobs for dockworkers.
Lyons, however, does not see automation as a threat to workers' jobs. He sees automation as a tool that can enhance productivity and efficiency while still keeping workers employed. He states that automation has to be part of the solution going forward, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of labor. Labor has to be part of the solution.
The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together are the top gateway for U.S. imports from China, are among the world’s least-efficient container ports, according to a ranking by the World Bank and IHS Markit. Automating the ports could help to address this inefficiency.
Lyons and Outgoing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh have been involved in negotiations between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, which speaks for companies, to reach a new labor agreement to replace one that expired in July. The uncertainty surrounding the negotiations has led to fears of a possible work stoppage or strike at the West Coast ports. Some shippers are already diverting cargo shipments to East and Gulf ports due to uncertainty.
Lyons, who replaced John Porcari as President Joe Biden’s ports and supply-chain envoy in May last year, said he will likely leave the Biden administration at the end of May when his term ends. Biden intends to nominate Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su to replace Walsh, and she is expected to lead the department on an acting basis until the Senate takes up her nomination.
In conclusion, automation in the ports and logistics industry is inevitable and should be embraced as a means of enhancing productivity and efficiency. Although there are concerns that automation could lead to job losses for dockworkers, Lyons does not see it as a threat to workers' jobs. The talks between the ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, which had hit a logjam, are now progressing, with discussions now focused on provisions such as automation.
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Source: Bloomberg, Supply Chain Brain
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