In its ongoing efforts to resist all forms of automation in the maritime world, the powerful US International Longshoremen’s Association has announced that its members will not service unmanned automated vessels. Citing safety and security issues, the union has long fought automation and even before that resisted the move to containerization.
Responding to various recent media reports on advances in shipping automation and specifically the efforts of Yara, NYK and others to develop automated container ships, ILA President Harold Daggett said stated: “Do not sail them into ILA ports from Maine to Texas, Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada – they will not be unloaded or loaded by ILA members.
The ILA fiercely opposed any form of automation. In 2018, the union negotiated a new six-year framework contract covering its tens of thousands of workers. A key element of the contract negotiations and final agreement was restrictive covenants to prevent ports from implementing automation technology or equipment. The ILA said it was committed to “maintaining productivity levels above what automated equipment could produce” and, aside from lower production levels due to the pandemic, the ILA says keeping its promise and keeping its members working.
Beyond the ports it operates, the ILA has also sought to support other unions and has been aggressive in its calls to block automation. In 2019, they supported the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada when the union also sought to limit automation in western Canadian ports. The ILA also underscored its opposition when one of the Port of Los Angeles terminals announced plans earlier this year to expand its automation efforts. The ILA criticized the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents Southern California longshoremen, because its contracts maintained certain automation rights for terminal operators.
“Workers around the world are being beset by the threat of automation from greedy corporations only interested in making money and eliminating the workers who have helped them build their success and their businesses,” the president said. Ila, Daggett. “It has to stop, and my ILA will do what it takes to save our jobs and the jobs of maritime workers around the world.”
The ILA particularly highlighted efforts to develop ships guided by satellites, on-board sensors and artificial intelligence. They highlighted Yara’s efforts to test an automated container ship between ports in Norway as well as NYK’s plans to send a freighter on a 236-mile test voyage along the Japanese coast.
“Now more than ever, dockworkers everywhere, joined by all maritime workers, must come together to fight this important battle against automation,” Daggett said. “ILA will not operate a container ship without a crew on board.”
The current ILA contract expires in three years, and Daggett said he would continue to oppose all forms of automation. “Already a company developing these automated vessels is also planning the automated loading and unloading of cargo from these vessels without crew and without workers. It won’t happen under my direction.
The ILA reiterated its position to negotiate the absence of automated or even semi-automated equipment in ILA ports.