West coast ports face labor union shutdown, congestion, and more air pollution

west coast portsIf you live anywhere near the Ports of Long Beach or Los Angeles – or any of the 29 west coast ports – you might notice that the cargo ships appear to be backed up farther down the coastline than usual. While the global economy is getting better, that extension of ships has more to do with bitter contract negotiations over the past nine months. It was backed up even more this past weekend after a shutdown by port operators.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) says that employers are not managing the supply chain efficiently; the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shippers and terminal operators, says that union works have intentionally been slowing their work speed by about 50% to put pressure on management to settle the contract. Pacific Maritime Association put out a “best offer” proposal on Feb. 4 and is waiting for the union to respond.

Union members have been offered a 3% wage increase, 11% higher pension benefits and no pressure to make concessions on the contract. For workers in the region, it’s usually the highest paying job out there. Longshore workers are now approaching $150,000 in annual wages and pensions that average $80,000 a year. There is a price for living that life – injuries can be severe for ILWU members, air quality can cause respiratory health problems, and the traffic congestion in and around the ports has been getting worse.

Port of Long Beach Chief Executive Jon Slangerup said during his State of the Port address on January 29 that congestion is becoming a serious problem at the port. It goes back to about 18 months ago when ocean carrier lines formed alliances combining their cargo ships. These ocean carriers got out of the truck trailer chassis side of the business; three local leasing companies took on the work but didn’t have large enough fleets to cope with increasing demand from these massive vessel carriers. Storing containers and getting them to trucks and trains became more complicated and dragged out as well.

The Port of Long Beach has been in discussions with the unions and the Port of Los Angeles on finding solutions to these gridlock problems. Capital investments are underway such as the Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project and the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project have been underway, and Slangerup expects them to generate about 5,000 construction jobs over the next few years.

The ports have been considering other capital investments in recent years, including one that would efficiently stack cargo containers and load them onto railroad cars that would deliver them to trucks near downtown Los Angeles. That proposal has been based on air pollution and traffic congestion building up on the I-710 and I-110 freeways. There’s also been the I-710 Corridor Project that’s expected to start up in the next five years. That 12-mile project is still seeking buy-in from cities along that stretch of the freeway and government agencies overseeing the region. The concept is to launch the corridor project in 2020 and complete it in 2030; it’s expected to create 500,000 project jobs and to help reduce harmful emissions.

The Port of Long Beach last night celebrated the 10 year anniversary of its Green Port Policy – which has been embraced and replicated by other ports around the world; the board voted to continue supporting the Green Port Policy through its next phase. The Port of Long Beach has invested more than $500 million to reduce the port’s environmental impact and meet ambitious goals improving air, water, soil and sediments, wildlife, sustainability, and community engagement.  Slangerup emphasized the goal of making Long Beach the world’s first zero emission port. Much of that is coming through what the port calls “Energy Island,” a fully self-sustained energy grid powered by solar, wind, fuel cells, natural gas, and potentially with other technologies currently in development.

Trucking has been a big part of the Green Port Policy for the second largest source of air pollution after cargo ships. The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles enacted their Clean Trucks programs that have brought the trucking fleets up to newer, cleaner diesel engines and reduced air pollution 80% compared to older truck models. Both ports are supporting test projects for port drayage trucks and other vehicles – such as battery electric trucks.

There’s much hope out there for peaceful settlement of the union contracts, and relief from congestion in the ports and nearby areas. The next 20 years will see several ambitious projects enacted to deal with these challenges and the health risks from increasing air pollution. The opportunities are there for all port stakeholders willing to take them on.

Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach bringing opportunities for clean air improvements

Ports of LA and Long BeachAs acknowledged during the annual CALSTART annual meeting and awards presentations, facing air pollution at freight corridors and ports is a serious challenge. Workers and local residents are prone to serious health hazards including asthma, lung cancer, and emphysema from toxic air pollutants. It is getting better at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the entire southern California region;  the cancer risk has dropped 65% since 2005, but it’s still considered to be too high and one of the worst in the nation. Incentive programs and cleaner fuels have slashed diesel emissions from trucks, ships, and other vehicles. For anyone living and working near the ports, there continues to be a strong demand for air quality to get better.

Two meetings in the Los Angeles area last week gave me some hope for the future of clean transportation at the largest port area in the US.  On Monday afternoon, PortTech Los Angeles, a non-profit organization funded by the Port of Los Angeles, held its annual open house meeting. Guests were able to see PortTech’s expanded office facilities and view table displays from startups in PortTech’s newest portfolio of companies. Like LA Cleantech Incubator, PortTech helps cleantech entrepreneurs go from early startups to thriving businesses. Member companies are in a good place to support PortTech’s vision of advanced, clean technologies serving the port community.

One of the displaying companies, Transpower, is manufacturing battery-electric drive systems for Class 8 trucks. The electric drive system offers lower lifecycle costs than diesel engines and is well suited for port drayage trucks, local delivery trucks, and refuse collection vehicles. NorthSouth GIS LLC (NSG) designs and deploys geospatial systems for ports. The company integrates these systems with other port systems, populates them with data, devises processes, and trains personnel with a focus on long-term sustainability. In September during the 5th annual PortTechEXPO, cleantech companies were able to connect with business prospects at Southern California’s ports and explore opportunities with ports worldwide working to achieve a more sustainable future.

Another meeting last week focused on a test project for cargo trucks serving the ports. On Thursday, the e4 Mobility Alliance, which is managed by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., hosted a meeting featuring Dennis Rodriguez, the Southern California account manager for Siemens. Rodriguez gave a presentation on electric trucks participating in a test project in Carson, Calif. Siemens is providing electric drive systems that will operate on a catenary system, similar to what you see powering metro buses in San Francisco and other cities. Along with the overhead external conductive box and cable system that Siemens is providing, Volvo Trucks is supplying test freight carrier trucks.

For Siemens, this technology has proven to be safe and efficient; trucks participating in previous tests have been able to perform at maximum weight loads and speeds. “Road freight emissions has become a big deal at ports,” Rodriguez said.

This project with its mile-long path in Carson, is the first part of a multi-phase project Siemens is seeking support for. South Coast Air Quality Management District is providing funding for this project that will start up next year. Siemens is hoping that its catenary system could be part of a dedicated single lane within 710 freeway’s corridor project set to start up in the next five years. That 12-mile project is still seeking buy-in from cities along that stretch of the freeway and government agencies overseeing the region. The concept is to launch the corridor project in 2020 and complete it in 2030; it’s expected to create 500,000 project jobs and to help reduce harmful emissions.