- The 7,000 dock workers represented through ILWU in Port LA are among the highest paid blue collar workers.
- They receive nearly three times as much as the average pavement worker because of the nature of their work.
- Christopher Mims explains how packages can arrive at your door in a matter of days in his new book, Arrival Today.
Dockers in the Port of Los Angeles have one of the highest-paid blue-collar worker jobs in the United States.
The more than 7,000 stevedores represented through the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) who work in the Southern California port make more than $100,000 annually and receive free health insurance and full pensions, according to a new book from The Wall Street Journal Christopher Mims. In Getting Today: From Factory to Front Door – Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Buy, Mims explains how goods move from Asia to the United States.
Workers receive nearly three times what the average dock worker does in the United States, according to data from Glassdoor that lists the median salary at $36,710 per year. However, Mims contextualizes the high wages of workers in the realm of the ILWU’s strength, as well as the skill and risk associated with the job.
“The stowage workers on the TraPac cranes are real-life examples of essential sci-fi gadgets for pilots in gigantic mechanical suits, except that instead of fighting the Kaiju destroying the city, they wake up each morning to team up with equally formidable sea giants transporting consumer goods from one continent to another. Mims writes.
Longshoremen are an important part of the complex dance that makes up the global supply chain. The ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach are responsible for about half of US imports. In Los Angeles, dock workers work in one of the most automated ports in the world. As of 2020, a third of the port is fully automated.
Longshoremen are working alongside massive robots to unload and reload ships, including a terminal called TraPac, a nearly fully automated with three-story-high robotic cranes that move containers into the port. Mims notes that some workers are in close proximity to massive robots that can crush a human in an instant, exposing them to serious risks of death or injury.
Port LA has 28 massive crane robots called “autostrads” which are home to the world’s largest robot by dimensions.
Mims writes of the electric-powered robots that silently roll on the rubber tires of the TraPac: “They accelerate quickly but move slowly, and top out at a speed barely higher than a brisk walk. They are tall and sturdy, like muppets.” in their collective behaviour – The way they literally swarm the containers deposited for them on the pier – They look like ants, or more accurately, like robots imbued with ant-like logic.”
Members of the International Federation of Migrant Workers have been able to command higher wages than most blue-collar workers because of the critical role they play in the economy by maintaining the flow of goods in and out of the United States. While port automation has greatly reduced the number of human workers at ports, those remaining are becoming increasingly valuable. It’s part of a process that takes less than 24 hours to fully unload the ship.
While workers represented by the ILWU were able to negotiate higher wages, this does not reflect the hourly wages of workers called to the job when ports need additional workers. These workers do not receive benefits and receive an initial wage of about $25 an hour, according to Mims.
Loading and unloading workers are some of the many workers who help keep the supply chain flowing. Today, these workers are more important than ever as massive supply chain hurdles threaten to disrupt the global economy. In the Port of Los Angeles, loaders and unloaders face a record backlog of ships.
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Read Mims’ book to learn more about the intersection between technology and the workforce that fuels the global supply chain and brings everyday goods to customers’ doors.