The US ports and logistics industry needs to embrace automation in order to improve efficiency, said The White House’s Supply Chain Envoy Stephen Lyons.
In the negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the use of port automation and the allocation of work at certain terminals have emerged as key sticking points.
Speaking at the TPM23 Conference in Long Beach, Lyons said that automation was “inevitable” and that the industry should “move there deliberately as opposed to getting dragged”, Bloomberg first reported.
He also stressed that automation should not be used to replace human workers, but rather to enhance production and efficiency.
Lyons said that automation could be part of the solution for improving the industry, which has been struggling to cope with the pandemic-induced surge in demand for goods.
“It’s reasonable for businesses to look at investments in technology that would enhance production and efficiency,” Lyons said. “Automation has to be part of the solution going forward, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of labour. Labour has to be part of the solution.”
As the container shipping industry gathers in Long Beach to kick off contract-signing season, Lyons said that he will likely leave the Biden administration at the end of May, when his term ends.
READ: West Coast labour deal will ‘not be done this year’
Outgoing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has been involved in the negotiations alongside Lyons. President Joe Biden intends to nominate Deputy Labor Secretary Julie Su to replace Walsh, and she is expected to lead the department on an acting basis until the Senate takes up her nomination.
Lyons’s comments reflect a growing recognition within the industry that automation is necessary to keep pace with rising demand and increasing competition from other countries.
Discover more in PTI’s special journal edition dedicated to automation trends and their applications in the port industry.