South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) this week announced an all-time record for container volume. The port surpassed the previous record of 104, 003 containers handled in May 2015. Container volume is up 28 percent compared to the same month last year.
As the port moves into the second half of the fiscal year, SCPA container volume is up 8 percent compared to the same period last year. And by 2020, bigger ships coming through the Panama Canal and into Charleston’s deepened harbor will translate into even more increased volumes of cargo. That flow will translate into a greater Income for International Longshoremen Association Local 1422 union members.
Congress passed the Charleston Harbor deepening project in December which will deepen Charleston Harbor to 54 feet at the entrance channel and 52 feet in the harbor.
That means larger ships that can traverse the newly expanded Panama Canal will be able to call on the Port of Charleston any time of day without tidal restrictions. The harbor is already wide enough to handle two ships simultaneously.
Local 1422 President Kenny Riley said last week the deeper harbor and increasing container volume mean more and better jobs for the union’s members. The union’s approximately 900 members and 300 additional workforce associates log about 1.5 million man-hours at a base salary of $32 per hour. Riley was at master contract negotiations in Alabama last week. During a break in the action he said the announcement of increased volumes is good news because increased volume means economic advantages for union members and the greater community.
Union members’ salaries impact a wide range of economic contributions. Their salaries afford the members a good lifestyle that includes automobile and home sales – two of the community’s biggest consumer items. But their direct spending also impacts goods and services obtained through professional services to retirees and their beneficiaries such as healthcare and medical services. Nearly 1,000 retirees, dependents and beneficiaries receive benefits on a monthly basis through the union’s retirement plan, Riley said. And annual container royalty payments contribute to an astonishing amount in spending power, he said.
Last year, in anticipation of funding for the harbor deepening Riley, said, “We anticipate that the volumes will continue to increase. Soon Charleston will become the deepest port in the south. This will allow the Port of Charleston to handle the larger vessels that already have begun transiting the new locks at the Panama Canal. Charleston is poised to capitalize on these services.”
But as the ILA positions itself for the increased flow in container volume, it also must protect itself. One of the greatest challenges to the union is automation, Riley said. Technology and automation helps to increase productivity, but it also eliminates the need for human workers. Automation at grocery stores and banks are among the most obvious contributors to unemployment. The union has to insure its members perform all the jobs on the docks, Riley said.