Thus far this column has been concerned with the infrastructure of the intermodal supply chain and the operational breakdowns along that chain. What most of us fail to notice, however, as we scan the daily reports dealing with these logistical problems, is the affect these pressures have upon those who make up the human element in this infrastructure. The recent tragedy in Chile should alert us to our own trouble spots and to the need for some immediate damage control. It would be incorrect, however, to assume that those in overall authority in our ports have the wherewithal to repair the cracks in the system and provide comfort zones simply by acquiring acreage for expansion purposes. More than three years ago, for example, Mr. Richard Steinke, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach, subtly hinted that the land needed for expansion was no longer available. “ I’m here to tell you, the land will run out”, were his exact words.
As congestion becomes more and more acute because of this inability to expand, port drivers, the lowest ones on the totem pole, incur further delays and even more costly income reductions. To make matters worse for these poorly-paid drivers, Teamster officials warn that relief is not likely to be forthcoming until these drivers are able to become unionized employees. But the law won’t allow that. So, what does the future have in store for these terminals and especially for the independent drivers? What recourse would be available to these drivers? Was Mr. Belzer right when he warned that if the problem is not soon solved, there’ll be no trucks available for deliveries? That would be a tragedy, but not as dire as one along the lines of what took place in Chile last week. A comfortable working environment and a living wage will elicit positive responses instead of negative ones from terminal workers and lead to the kind of cooperation Mr. Nagel hopes to see. But the favorable working conditions must first be in place.
In theory, free-flowing, unimpeded container terminals would allow for systematic berthing and servicing of manageable numbers of container ships each and every day. Unhampered storage, retrieval, and delivery of these containers presuppose congestion-free passage in and around these terminals, and such utopian conditions would provide the comfortable working environment required for all personnel. Immediate and serious consideration, therefore, must be given to the pages in this website which describe the space-saving/creating features of these patented storage, retrieval, and delivery systems.
Designed to assure free-flowing and unimpeded operations within container terminals, these systems would also reduce operating costs and increase profits significantly. This financial windfall, unavailable in conventionally-structured terminals, would allow for permanent employment of port drivers for these in-house delivery systems. Employment by the terminal delivery systems would thereby qualify these drivers for union membership, and an important step in accordance with the S.H.A.R.E. principles will have been taken.