A Win-Win Situation (A re-print of Vol. II, Art. 10)

Much is being said about “technology” nowadays, but there are good kinds of technology and there are bad kinds of technology. The term “high-tech” almost immediately brings to mind the dot-com disaster that cost U.S. investors billions of dollars three or four years ago. Now that’s an example of bad technology. And of course, that bombshell hit right after the Y2K fiasco, which should have taught us that there are Information Technology swindlers on the loose, and that maybe we should do some homework instead of being intimidated in this age of so-called rocket science. Homework doesn’t seem to be our strong suit, however.

“Labor-saving” technology is the worst kind of bad technology, but that depends upon whose ox is being gored. A tenuous contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association is a six-year arm-wrestling engagement concerned mainly with the advancement, or encroachment, of information technology in West Coast terminals. The ILWU, of course, wants to preserve as many jobs as possible, and to be perfectly frank about it, the PMA wants to eliminate as many jobs as possible. That’s what the term “labor-saving” means, doesn’t it?

This website has described our patented system as being efficient. Our October 14th commentary lists more than two dozen cost-saving advantages that are not, and could never be, offered by conventionally structured and operated container yards. These benefits are achieved by using, of all things, technology. But this is good technology because the goal in our system is not “labor-saving” but “job-creating”. Even the PMA boasts that even though their aim is to eliminate clerks at gates, a resulting increase in volume will more than offset the loss in clerk jobs. This was borne out when TraPac (Trans Pacific Container Service Corp.) introduced automation in its gate operations. About 19 clerks were eliminated by this move but the subsequent increase in cargo volume required the addition of dozens of equipment operators and yard workers. A win-win situation.

“As volume goes up, work opportunities for the ILWU will increase,” said Doug Tilden of Marine Terminal Corp., and though he agreed that technology will help he also pointed out that technology alone won’t solve the problem. Terminal operators are already aware of the inevitable saturation point in today’s space-starved terminals. Art Merrick, president of Long Beach Container Terminal, said, “We need more space. Without enough space, you spend more time shifting containers than moving them.” And so go the quandaries besetting labor and management in container terminals.
Retrofitting our systems in those terminals would solve everything. Space would be no problem. In the limited amount we’d require, the system would handle as much cargo as the community and the transportation modes would allow. The increased cargo volume and added distribution centers would create, not dozens, but thousands of new jobs. Acres and acres of valuable land would be returned to the community for other more practical and more profitable uses. The efficiencies in this new system of ours, made possible by good technology, would bring significantly higher incomes to all employees, increased revenues to port authorities and terminal operators, and greatly reduced operating expenses for carriers. [Now that’s what you’d call a real win-win situation.]