Re: "The bigger picture must be considered" (letter, 1-7).
Half a century ago, East Coast longshoremen struck to halt containerization. Now most non-bulk cargoes are containerized, and port productivity worldwide has increased tremendously.
Now at West Coast ports, longshore workers mean to halt productivity gains. Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver and Portland need to meet the efficiency challenges of California ports. Any cost reductions per ton of cargo that our ports can make result in improvement of America's competitive position vis-à-vis exporters of other countries.
Decades ago, the U.S. merchant marine priced itself out of global competition, mostly due to high labor costs in building and manning ships. The coal industry, by contrast, under the union management of John L. Lewis, welcomed all technology gains in the industry so that productivity per worker rose over 30 years (1930s to 1960s) by 75 times, i.e., by roughly 7,500 percent. We could then deliver coal to European ports at lower prices than European coal industries could produce coal.
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Yes, jobs will be lost in ports; that's what productivity gains mean. More is produced using fewer workers.
Information that has become available during the West Coast slowdown indicates that longshore workers at West Coast ports average around $220,000 per annum in income plus benefits. Thus, further income gains might be less important to workers than preserving jobs by halting possible new gains in productivity. But all exporters and importers will probably continue to be concerned with minimization of their transport costs.