Port unions have a long history of bargaining over disruptive innovations

West Coast ports, including the country’s busiest in Los Angeles and Long Beach, are in the process of renegotiating labor contracts with the union that represents dockworkers. This is a critical time for the supply chain and the contracts expire on July 1. One of the main sticking points is automation: shipping companies say ports need to modernize to improve efficiency.

But dockworkers are wary of technologies that could cost them their jobs – part of a long history of managing technological change in their workplace.

In the last century, another new innovation revolutionized the shipping industry: steel containers, invented in 1956. Instead of loading and unloading box by box, dockworkers could use cranes to lift containers from a ship and deposit them directly on the bed of a ship. train or truck.

“It would be a safer place to work,” said Peter Cole, a history professor at Western Illinois University. “It has also resulted in less rough manual labor and longer careers on the waterfront.”

But, he said, that meant far fewer workers would be needed. So in 1960, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the same group that negotiates port contracts today, agreed to allow containers, under certain conditions.

“The union got a firm promise that no worker would be fired,” Cole said.

Shipping companies have set up a multi-million dollar fund to generously buy out laid-off workers. It’s a pattern the ILWU has followed closely ever since, said John Ahlquist, a politics professor at the University of California, San Diego.

“They want to make sure existing workers share in the benefits of new technologies,” he said. “They are also very aware that new technologies create new jobs.”

In their 2008 contract, for example, the dockworkers secured a promise that their members would be first in line for new machine maintenance and repair jobs at automated terminals.

But many workers in other industries facing job cuts from automation don’t have that power, said Harry Holzer, John LaFarge, Jr. SJ professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

“If workers aren’t unionized, and if you’re not in a tight labor market environment, employers have a pretty free hand,” Holzer said.

As automation and artificial intelligence continue to reshape jobs across the economy, he said questions about how to help displaced workers and who should be responsible for helping them will only become than more important.

There’s a lot going on in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is there for you.

You rely on Marketplace to break down world events and tell you how it affects you in a factual and accessible way. We count on your financial support to continue to make this possible.

Your donation today fuels the independent journalism you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help maintain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.

Port unions have a long history of bargaining over disruptive innovations

Source link Port unions have a long history of bargaining over disruptive innovations

Back to top button