Union Blocks Automation That Would Make Ports More Resilient and Efficient

(p. B6) The companies that transport and handle the cargo say the automation is one solution to the congestion at ports, particularly the Los Angeles and Long Beach sites at the heart of America’s supply chain woes. The spare use of robotics at U.S. ports leaves them uncompetitive with big gateways in China and Europe that are packed with automation, they say.

Jeremy Nixon, chief executive of Singapore-based container line Ocean Network Express, told the TPM22 Conference produced by The Journal of Commerce in Long Beach earlier this year that European and Asian ports can clear backlogs quickly because they have automated cargo-handling equipment that operates around the clock. “Here, we just don’t have that resilience,” he said.

. . .

A port performance index created by the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence ranked the Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex dead last in efficiency among the world’s ports last year, trailing Luanda, Angola, and the Port of Ngqura, South Africa. The world’s most efficient ports were in the Middle East and Asia.

For the full story, see:

Paul Berger. “Port Union Talks Center on Automation.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 10, 2022): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2022, and has the title “A Deep Divide on Automation Hangs Over West Coast Port Labor Talks.”)

Truckers Hurt If Union Dock Workers Strike to Add to Their Six Figure Pay, and to Block Efficient Technology

(p. B1) LOS ANGELES — David Alvarado barreled south along the highway, staring through the windshield of his semi truck toward the towering cranes along the coastline.

He had made the same 30-minute trek to the Port of Los Angeles twice that day; if things went well, he would make it twice more. Averaging four pickups and deliveries a day, Mr. Alvarado has learned, is what it takes to give his wife and three children a comfortable life.

“This has been my life — it’s helped me support a family,” said Mr. Alvarado, who for 17 years has hauled cargo between warehouses across Southern California and the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a global hub that handles 40 percent of the nation’s seaborne imports.

He weathered the blow to his paycheck early in the pandemic when he was idling for six hours a day, waiting for cargo to be loaded off ships and onto his truck. Now the ports are bustling again, but there is a new source of anxiety: the imminent expiration of the union contract for dockworkers (p. B5) along the West Coast.

If negotiations fail to head off a slowdown, a strike or a lockout, he said, “it will crush me financially.”

The outcome will be crucial not only for the union dockworkers and port operators, but also for the ecosystem of workers surrounding the ports like Mr. Alvarado, and for a global supply chain reeling from coronavirus lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Inflation’s surge to the highest rate in more than four decades is due, in part, to supply chain complications.

The contract between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents 22,000 workers at 29 ports from San Diego to Seattle, and the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the shipping terminals, is set to expire on Friday. The union members primarily operate machinery like cranes and forklifts that move cargo containers on and off ships.

. . .

The negotiations have centered largely on whether to increase wages for the unionized workers, whose average salaries are in the low six figures, and expanding automation, such as using robots to move cargo containers, to speed up production, a priority for shipping companies.

“Automation allows greater densification at existing port terminals, enabling greater cargo throughput and continued cargo growth over time,” Jim McKenna, the chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association, said in a recent video statement on the negotiations.

. . .

As he drove past the ports, Mr. Alvarado turned his truck into a warehouse parking lot, where the multicolored containers lined the asphalt like a row of neatly arranged Lego blocks.

It was his third load of the day, and for this round, he didn’t have to wait on the longshoremen to load the carrier onto his truck. Instead, he backed his semi up to a chassis, and the blue container snapped into place.

He pulled up Google Maps on his iPhone and looked at the distance to the drop-off in Fontana, Calif.: 67 miles, an hour and half.

It might, Mr. Alvarado said, end up being a four-load day after all.

For the full story see:

Kurtis Lee. “As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, The U.S. Has a Stake.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 30, 2022): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “As Dockworkers Near Contract’s End, Many Others Have a Stake.”)

Buffalo Stadium Subsidy Is Corporate and Union Welfare Pork

(p. A11) It’s bad enough that the budget agreement announced Thursday night by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will shower more than $1 billion of the public’s money on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, a billionaire-owned football franchise that competes in the world’s most profitable sports league. But Ms. Hochul has attached conditions to the deal that will drive up the construction cost by roughly 20% and assure that a big chunk of the subsidy will be wasted. That contradicts her claim that she sought to negotiate the “best deal for taxpayers.”

Ms. Hochul is the first New York governor to hail from Buffalo since Grover Cleveland. Her husband is general counsel of Delaware North, the chief concessionaire at Highmark Stadium, the Bills’ current home in suburban Orchard Park. The new 60,000-seat facility is to be erected nearby, on the site of an existing stadium parking lot. Ms. Hochul says it’s a good deal for residents, who are rightly suspicious. So too are economists, whose strong consensus is that taxpayers almost always come out losers in publicly funded stadium projects, which chiefly enrich owners.

In this case, the corporate welfare pork is greased with a costly handout to unionized labor. That’s because of the state’s so-called prevailing-wage law, which effectively mandates that contractors on public construction projects such as schools, roads, bridges and subways pay union-level wages and benefits. Last year, a “source familiar with the negotiations” told the Buffalo News that the project’s $1.4 billion price tag was driven in part by “prevailing wage and union workforce requirements, among other rules.” Exactly how much the prevailing-wage law adds to the stadium deal is hard to know, but it’s likely in the hundreds of millions.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Warren. “CROSS COUNTRY; The Buffalo Bills’ Stadium Subsidy Is a Hand-Off to Unions.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 9, 2022): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 8, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Most Private-Sector Workers Do Not Value Unions Enough to Want to Pay Dues

(p. A17) The annual BLS report on union membership released last week shows that unions lost nearly a quarter-million members in 2021, with private-sector membership dropping to a historic low of 6.1%. Even in retail and healthcare, which labor organizers targeted over pandemic-related safety concerns, union membership declined in 2021 from 2020.

. . .

. . . thinking well of unions and wanting to pay dues to be represented by one aren’t the same. I recently moderated focus groups of workers 18 to 29 in the Midwest and on the East and West coasts. While most said positive things about unions, only a handful wanted to join one.

. . .

The “historic” worker strife that has drawn media attention is more fiction than fact. Don’t take my word for it: The socialist magazine Jacobin reviewed the new BLS data on work stoppages and concluded that 2021 “was a quiet year, even by recent standards.”

For the full commentary, see:

Michael Saltsman. “Big Labor’s Resurgence That Wasn’t.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 24, 2022): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

Bloomberg Will Donate $750 Million to Support Charter Schools

(p. A19) American public education is broken. Since the pandemic began, students have experienced severe learning loss because schools remained closed in 2020—and even in 2021 when vaccinations were available to teachers and it was clear schools could reopen safely. Many schools also failed to administer remote learning adequately.

Before the pandemic, about two-thirds of U.S. students weren’t reading at grade level, and the trend has been getting worse. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation’s report card, show that in 2019, eighth-grade math scores had already fallen significantly.

Teachers understand the severity of the problem, and many are doing heroic work, yet some of their union representatives are denying reality. “There is no such thing as learning loss,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of the Los Angeles teachers union, in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine this past summer. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience.”

What nonsense. How about reading, writing and arithmetic, the critical skills we are funding schools to teach?

Instead of giving students the skills they need to succeed in college or in a trade, the public education system is handing them diplomas that say more about their attendance record than their academic achievement. This harms students, especially those from low-income families. When and if they graduate, they will try to find work in an economy that values knowledge and skills above all else, and their old schools will say to them: “Good luck!”

. . .

We know what works, because we can see it in real time. Success Academy’s network of 47 public charter schools is serving New York children whose families predominantly live below the poverty line. Their students are outperforming public-school students in Scarsdale, N.Y.—the wealthiest town on the East Coast and the second-wealthiest town in America—by significant margins. Yet a statewide cap on charter schools is blocking Success Academy from expanding.

. . .

Today there are long waiting lists for charter schools across the country, but mayors and governors aren’t getting the support they need from Congress and the White House to open new charter schools. To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country.

For the full commentary, see:

Bloomberg, Michael R. “Why I’m Backing Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 1, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Former Teacher Union President Says Charter Schools Give Black and Hispanic Children “Access to a Quality Education”

(p. A21) When I became a teacher, it seemed natural to become an advocate for the profession. Somewhere along the way I became more of a union leader than an educational leader.

. . .

I used to oppose charter schools, not because they were bad for kids, but because they were bad for unions.

. . .

I served as president of the Washington Teachers’ Union for six years and recognize the added value unions can bring in securing fair compensation and safe working conditions for teachers. I’m still a union member. But I now work on behalf of charter schools.

Charter schools are also public schools. All of them. They provide more than three million students, mostly black and Hispanic, access to a quality public education. They are innovative and student-centered. They break down barriers that have kept families of color from the educational opportunities they deserve. Another two million children would attend charter schools if there were space for them. How could I work against these kids?

For the full commentary, see:

George Parker. “How My Mind Opened to Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 27, 2021): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 26, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Longshoreman Union Reduces Efficiency of American Ports

(p. A15) Global supply chains are buckling, driving up prices, creating shortages and frustrating consumers.

. . .

One problem is productivity. In Asia, ships are worked 24/7, or 168 hours a week, compared with 16 hours a day, or only 112 hours a week, at Los Angeles-Long Beach. Terminal gates used by truckers to deliver and receive seaborne containers operate only 88 hours a week, vs. 168 in Asia. For larger ships, it takes 24 seconds on average to move a container at the Chinese ports of Shanghai, Qingdao and Yantian, vs. 48 seconds at Los Angeles, according to IHS Markit port-performance data.

. . .

A decades-long history of toxic labor-management relations has led to huge cost increases that discourage operators from expanding work hours, limit their ability to automate terminals, and end in avoidable delays during contract negotiations. Many companies won’t soon forget six months of costly delays at West Coast ports during contract negotiations with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in 2014 and 2015. More than 30 container ships were backed up at anchor off the ports during that episode. Companies will be closely watching the next round of negotiations in 2022.

There is no sign that the labor-management paradigm will change, and a Democratic administration is unlikely to challenge longshoremen’s unions to make compromises.

For the full commentary see:

Peter Tirschwell. “Behind Your Long Wait for Packages.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 3, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Musk Confronts or Ignores Regulators Who Block Innovation

(p. A1) He’s become one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs by reinventing industries from electric cars to rockets. Along the way, he’s also rewritten the rules of engagement with U.S. regulators.

Elon Musk has emerged a winner in a series of run-ins with a range of regulatory agencies that have watched as he sidestepped rules or ignored enforcement attempts. He has overmatched an alphabet-soup of agencies that oversee financial markets and safety in the workplace, on highways and in space flight.

Most chief executives try to avoid regulators—or at least stay in their good graces. Many accused of overstepping have paid fines or agreed to make improvements.

Mr. Musk, revered by some investors for his iconoclastic approach, has taken a different tack on his way to becoming one of the richest men in the world, not letting regulations hinder his goals to revolutionize transportation with Tesla Inc.’s electric cars or colonize Mars using SpaceX rockets.

Federal agencies say he’s breaking the rules and endangering people. Mr. Musk (p. A10) says they’re holding back progress.

. . .

The Federal Aviation Administration criticized SpaceX for launching a rocket in December [2020] without a proper FAA license. Mr. Musk ridiculed the FAA space division in a tweet as “fundamentally broken.”

. . .

When asked to comment on the specifics of this article, Mr. Musk replied with a “poop” emoji. Asked to elaborate, Mr. Musk declined to provide any input on his interactions with federal agencies or his view toward regulation. In a tweet Tuesday, Mr. Musk said he agrees with regulators “99.9% of the time.” He added that when they disagree, it “is almost always due to new technologies that past regulations didn’t anticipate.”

. . .

After the FAA delayed a January [2021] test launch, Mr. Musk accused the agency of holding back progress and argued that its regulations were outdated. “Their rules are meant for a handful of expendable launches per year from a few government facilities,” he tweeted on Jan. 28. “Under those rules, humanity will never get to Mars.”

. . .

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in March that Tesla had violated U.S. labor law by hindering unionization and ordered Mr. Musk to delete a tweet discouraging employees from unionizing. Tesla this month appealed the decision, saying the NLRB’s ruling was “contrary to law.”

Mr. Musk’s tweet remains online. The NLRB declined to comment.

For the full story, see:

Ben Foldy, Rebecca Elliott, Susan Pulliam. “Elon Musk’s War With Regulators.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, April 29, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 28, 2021, and has the title “Elon Musk’s War on Regulators.”)

New Regulations Pushed by Union Allied with de Blasio Will Limit New NYC Hotels

(p. A8) Mayor Bill de Blasio and other New York City leaders are pushing a controversial plan to drastically restrict hotel development, a move that the mayor’s own experts fear could endanger the city’s post-pandemic recovery and cost billions in lost tax revenue.

. . .

The Council is expected to approve the plan in time for Mr. de Blasio to see it become law before he leaves office this year. Once it is in place, developers fear that few, if any, new hotels would be built.

. . .

“We flag that to continue with this proposal could be seen as contrary to economic recovery principles and sound planning,” Marisa Lago, the director of the planning department, wrote last year in the memo to City Hall.

But Mr. de Blasio’s views hew closer to those of another group: the hotel workers union that endorsed his 2020 presidential campaign, pouring $440,000 into ads to bolster his ill-fated candidacy.

The union, the Hotel Trades Council, has long pushed to limit the construction of new hotels, which are often nonunion. Its calculation has been that limiting the development of such hotels, which typically offer less-expensive lodging than existing full-service hotels, would tend to increase hotel room prices generally and bolster the higher-end hotels where many of its workers are employed.

. . .

In most of the city, developers are free to build hotels in areas that are zoned for such use. Under a special approval process, building hotels would become far more challenging, said Moses Gates, vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association, an influential nonprofit planning group. No other type of routine development currently gets the kind of scrutiny that Mr. de Blasio is proposing for hotels, he said.

“Hotels would be the only common land use which would always need City Council approval to be built, no matter what,” Mr. Gates said.

. . .

The Hotel Trades Council’s support of a special permit process for new hotels may seem counterintuitive, since it is effectively opposing the growth of jobs in the industry that it represents. Union hotel jobs in New York City provide one of the few pathways to the middle class for workers with no college education.

“Labor generally is in favor of employment and of growth, but especially jobs in their own sector,” said Harry C. Katz, a professor of collective bargaining at Cornell University.

But mid-market hotels that serve middle-class tourists are hard to unionize, union and industry experts say. If citywide special permits are adopted, as is expected, the hotel union would most likely use its political leverage to pressure Council members to only accept new hotels that use union labor.

For the full story, see:

Dana Rubinstein and J. David Goodman. “A Plan to Limit New Hotels in New York Meets Resistance.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 28, 2021): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2021, and has the title “A $7 Billion Mistake? New York Seeks to Curb New Hotels.”)

The research co-authored by Stone and mentioned above was described in:

Stone, Brian, Jr., Evan Mallen, Mayuri Rajput, Carina J. Gronlund, Ashley M. Broadbent, E. Scott Krayenhoff, Godfried Augenbroe, Marie S. O’Neill, and Matei Georgescu. “Compound Climate and Infrastructure Events: How Electrical Grid Failure Alters Heat Wave Risk.” Environmental Science & Technology (published online in advance of print on April 30, 2021).

Amazon Workers Can Flourish Without Unions

(p. A1) Amazon workers at a giant warehouse in Alabama voted decisively against forming a union on Friday, squashing the most significant organizing drive in the internet giant’s history and dealing a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when conditions appeared ripe for them to make advances.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favor of a union trailed at 738, fewer than 30 percent of the votes tallied, according to federal officials.

. . .

(p. A17) William and Lavonette Stokes, who started work at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how it could improve their working conditions. Amazon already provides good benefits, relatively high pay that starts at $15 an hour and opportunities to advance, said the couple, who have five children.

“Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1,” Ms. Stokes, 52, said. She added that she had been turned off by how organizers tried to cast the union drive as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement because most of the workers are Black.

“This was not an African-American issue,’’ said Ms. Stokes, who is Black. “I feel you can work there comfortably without being harassed.”

In a news conference organized by Amazon on Friday, Mr. Stokes and other workers said they had concerns that they wanted the company to address, like better training and anti-bias coaching for managers.

“We just feel like we can do it without the union,” he said. “Why pay the union to do what we can do ourselves?”

For the full story, see:

Karen Weise and Michael Corkery. “Major Setback to Labor As Amazon Employees Reject Unionization Bid.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 10, 2021): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Amazon Workers Vote Down Union Drive at Alabama Warehouse.”)

U.A.W. Spends $60,000 on Leaders’ Cigar Expenses

(p. B1) On a single day in December 2015, Gary Jones, who resigned last month as president of the United Automobile Workers, spent more than $13,000 of the union’s money at a cigar store in Arizona. His purchases included a dozen $268 boxes of Ashton Double Magnums and a dozen boxes of Ashton Monarchs at $274.50 each. “Hi Gary, Thank you & Happy New Year,” read a handwritten note from the store.

The purchases, documented by a federal complaint filed against a union leader in September, were part of more than $60,000 in cigars and cigar paraphernalia that Mr. Jones and other U.A.W. officials expensed to the union between 2014 and 2018. And the cigar purchases were in turn just a small portion of the roughly $1 million in union money that court filings say U.A.W. officials spent on golf outings, four-figure din-(p. B2)ners and monthslong villa rentals during regular retreats in Palm Springs, Calif., and elsewhere.

The scandal comes on top of an investigation into company and union officials’ improper use of millions of dollars from a joint Fiat Chrysler-U.A.W. training center. Mr. Jones’s predecessor as president, Dennis Williams, is accused of encouraging the use of Fiat Chrysler funds meant for worker education as a way to pay for the extravagant spending in Palm Springs and other places.

For the full story, see:

Noam Scheiber and Neal E. Boudette. “Living the High Life On the Workers’ Dime.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 26, 2019): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Behind a U.A.W. Crisis: Lavish Meals and Luxury Villas.”)