Peter Mautsch containers_697792
Peter Mautsch

Negotiations between the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and United States Maritime Alliance (USMX) have been brought to a shuddering halt following ILA concerns over the use of automated technology at some US gateways.

The ILA announced the suspension after its discovery of an auto gate system at APM Terminals’ port of Mobile, Alabama, with suggestions similar technology may be in use at other ports.

A spokesperson for the labour union said: “Here we go again. This is another example of USMX members unilaterally circumventing our coast-wide master contract. This is a clear violation of our agreement and we will not tolerate it any longer.”

Auto gates allow for the autonomous processing of trucks without the need for labour and their use would be a violation of the contract that runs until 30 September.

That agreement determines six-year cycles for some 45,000 dockworkers along the US east coast and Gulf ports, and ILA president Harold Daggett warned that union members would not work under the contract past its expiry date, signalling a strike in October.

“There’s no point trying to negotiate a new agreement with USMX when one of its major companies continues to violate our agreement,” said Mr Daggett. “[Its] sole aim is eliminating ILA jobs through automation. Who the hell is a foreign company like Maersk to come on American soil and build fully automated terminals? Maersk tries to shove fully automated terminal down our throats… to eliminate good paying American jobs,” he told the ILA’s membership at last year’s annual convention.

With work stoppages looming, the impact would be immediate, and some US retailers are reportedly looking at contingencies.

Paul Brashier, VP of drayage and intermodal at ITS Logistics, told The Loadstar: “Contingency plans should be put in place during this current ocean contract season.”

The ILA has not been shy about challenging parties over master contract violations, having sued Hapag-Lloyd and OOCL for $300m over a contested hybrid labour model at Charleston’s Leatherman terminal.

The Loadstar asked USMX for comment on the ILA decision to suspend talks, but the maritime alliance had not responded when this story was published.

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