ILWU Accepts New Role: A Greener Partner to Shippers, Ports, Local Communities

Peter Peyton

By their nature, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles apply constant pressure to the often conflicting intersection of environmental mitigation and business development. In the face of unprecedented growth, the ports have voluntarily committed to growing green. No green goals will be possible, however, without the partnership of unions, such as the ILWU. In order to understand their position on the ports’ green efforts, VerdeXchange News was pleased to speak with the Secretary of ILWU Local 63, Peter Peyton.


The TraPac Container Terminal Project just released its DEIS/DEIR for public review. What is the significance of that project for your union and for the goods movement challenges of Southern California? 

 The TraPac EIR is a critical project for the growth of the ports, which hasn’t moved for five years. And it’s the Union’s perspective that we’re fighting what we should be doing, and the only way to get through the problems that we have with congestion is with a good strategy, and TraPac is the first project to really put this in play.

When you look at the expectation of new technologies, I think in a lot of cases we may not yet be where we’d like to be, but when you put an EIR together and it works for the ports, cold ironing the ships, lowering emissions for the trucks, and redesigning yards that are able to move more rail, which takes the trucks off the roads, I think you’ve got a combination of good things. If you look at the existing process as it stands right now, even at the initial opening of this project, we’ll be better off than where we are at in our current level of emissions.

The mayor of Los Angeles and the Harbor Commission have said that they want the ports of L.A. and Long Beach to be the greenest ports in the nation. That poses challenges for the people that have to move those goods to the ports. What challenges do we need to overcome to be green today?

We must realize that solving congestion and lowering emissions works for the port and the area. If we’re going to look at the overall strategy it’s easy to say, “We want green,” but if we are going to be successful, we need to look at projects in terms of the overall goods movement. What will potential projects bring to the table? What can we do in the short term to make this work better, while remembering what we need to do to reach those long-term goals?

What are the opportunities for the unions, the railroads, and the cities to define these terms in a more environmentally friendly way?

For the first time probably ever, the Union has actually sat down with one of the railroads. We see the problems that we have right now, and we know that unless everyone in the supply space comes to the discussion ready to take a portion of responsibility for the solutions to our goals, we’re not going to get there. The Union has already made the move to discuss rail in the future, in terms of how the Union sees it, meeting the rails, and seeing what ways can we help them get what they need to make it happen.

Looking around other ports in the world or the nation, what technologies does the Union feel make the most sense for moving 43 percent of the goods of the nation through the ports of Long Beach and L.A.? What is your Union comfortable in advancing and promoting in terms of technology?

I already have everything on the table. I don’t want anything to be thrown off because of new technologies, which arrive daily. We need an approach to technology that says, “We are willing to look at everything,” including current practices for goods movement, and as the new technologies come on, “How do we get them in the system?”

A sign of the times, ILWU is taking a proactive role in the environmental climate change movement in 2007. How unusual is it for the Union to be active in the GreenXchange and other green activities?

Well, it’s brand new, even though we did lead early last year in talks about steamship emissions. We recognize that it’s still something we’re going to have to discuss, because there are a lot of people who think that zero growth is a solution to this problem. We in the port community know zero growth only means that we’re going to have more harmful movement of cargo, higher emissions, and unsafe docks because we haven’t solved the long-term problems. We recognize very clearly that this is something that we have to be involved in, both for the working people at the docks and the working people living in surrounding communities.

Just before this interview, the L.A. City Council approved an agreement to terminate liquid bulk operator Westway Terminal Co. Inc.’s lease at Berths 69-71 at the Port of Los Angeles. This is an action that has been called for by the community for years. What is your reaction?

The Union hasn’t taken a position on this action. I’ve looked at it, and I wonder what our answers are for taking something off the table that may create solutions to environmental issues, and I don’t really know. The Union hasn’t taken a position on this, but we’ve watched it, and it needs to be part of a holistic approach and an understanding that, if not this, then what?

When you deal with technology, it’s about what’s in market, what’s about to be in market, and what’s needed in market. What do we need in market, to make the port more environmentally friendly?

The problem is that when you look at technology, if you look at the stages in which technology gets implemented, you’ll see that we’re probably only at stage one in terms of the implementation of the existing technology. Like the 20 years of standardization it took to get the container where it was, unfortunately, what’s happening is you have a lot of people that are trying to move into a system that they don’t necessarily understand. And I think part of the problem that we have is that I haven’t seen a system yet that truly answers the goods mobility issue that we have relating to emissions.

In the upcoming months, we’re going to do interviews with players around the globe in Japan and Europe. Are there any ports, and are there any technologies out there being employed outside of the United States, that you find interesting enough to follow?

When you look at other ports, every port stands on its own in terms of the type of cargo it moves. For instance, L.A. is a goods movement port, which changes the dynamic of the port and shippers. What you have is categories where one size fits all. You must understand the categories and what it is you’re trying to accomplish; in our case, how do you move cargo through cities that have aging infrastructure and populations that are increasing at a level that’s beyond what anybody can imagine? Our questions and challenges are different from a lot of other places that have technology that in some cases are very good at meeting the particular needs of those ports and areas. So, you have to think of this from an approach of, “What is good for the way we need to move cargo?”

Are there any ports like L.A. around the globe?

I’ve traveled to a number of ports in the United States and a number of ports outside, and there’s one problem that’s common to everybody: population is always built around ports, which were usually built first, and no has figured out the answer as to how to make ports both invisible and emissions-free. When they figure that one out, we’ll all be much better off.

If we chat in a year’s time, what will we be talking about?

We’ll probably be going through the types of new technologies and their long-term advantages. We’ll also be looking at changes to the industry and the current way we move cargo, which will just be scratching the surface before we can move toward to a plan that will really solve these problems.