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Boosting Terminal Productivity the Old-Fashioned Way

July 7, 2014

Above: Longshore workers and managers at Pacific Container Terminal celebrate their recent container move record. From left: Ruben Ramirez, Chris Alsop, Simon Zanki, Chad Lusic, Greg Watson, Jeff Potter, Sal Ferrigno, Anthony Lauricella, Sonny Lujan, Nabil Ben-Amor, Angelo Daddario, Garrett Bradford, Nick Padovan, Marel Espino, Shawn Robinson, Javier Perez, Tim Mardesich and Steve Kostich.

On May 17, a single crane working at Pacific Container Terminal (PCT) moved 534 containers in a single shift – averaging 66 containers per hour.

On May 21, a single crane at Pier A moved 491 containers in a single shift – averaging 61 moves per hour.

While the off-the-charts numbers mark singular events, the records that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union crews shattered were their own. On a regular basis, vessel productivity at these SSA Marine Inc. terminals ranges between 33 and 36 moves per hour. That’s about 30 percent more efficient ship-to-shore discharging and loading than most West Coast ports, which average 25 to 28 moves per hour.

“We’re talking about faster turnaround for the big ships that carry 8,500 to 10,000 TEUs,” said Sal Ferrigno, general manager of PCT, operated by stevedoring company SSA Marine, along with the Pier A terminal. “The ILWU deserves to be recognized.”

The story behind the numbers is a tale of two terminals with different histories leading to the same success at a time when the competition for international cargo among the West Coast, the East Coast, Canada and Mexico is fiercer than ever. These days, every link in the supply chain is looking to boost productivity, and no one – not even the Port of Long Beach, the nation’s second-busiest container port – is missing any opportunity to improve service.

SSA figured prominently in the Journal of Commerce’s recent ranking of Long Beach as the port with the highest berth productivity in North America, based on container moves per hour while ships are at berth from January to June 2013. PCT was ranked No. 3 among terminals with the highest berth productivity in North America.

The common threads in SSA’s success? Old-fashioned trust, respect, cooperation, communication and teamwork.

A terminal comeback

At PCT, Local 94 Foremen Steve Kostich, Nick Padovan and Jeff Potter tell the story of a terminal comeback. The ILWU was challenged in 2011 by SSA Containers President Ed DeNike to turn around an operation plagued by more than a decade of low productivity where moves averaged about 25 per hour.

“He called us out and we knew we needed to step up to the challenge,” said Kostich, an 18-year foreman with more than 34 years on the waterfront. That the terminal is located on Pier J, the farthest one from the dispatch hall, didn’t help. “Nobody wanted to come here. Now our jobs are among the first to go.”

The original goal was 27 moves per hour. But getting there called for a slew of changes ranging from maximizing the use of terminal space to re-energizing the work force. Some fixes were major, such as opening up a second ILWU parking lot to recapture 30 minutes of shift time regularly lost when buses bringing in crews had to wait for on-dock trains to pass. Others involved smaller improvements such as cleaning up the facility from the docks to the bathrooms.

“We had a wish list of about 30 items, which we rolled out two or three at a time,” Kostich said. “To motivate people, we started each shift with a safety talk. It cost nothing to make that change.”

Trust had to be regained among the workers themselves – drivers, crane operators, clerks, security and others – and between management and labor to create an atmosphere where everyone knows he has a role to play and each person respects what another has to contribute, Potter said.

That was a culture change for everyone, he added. “Not only did they have to trust us, we had to trust them.”

Pier A pride

Workers and management at Pier A describe a different experience. Many have been steadies – regularly assigned to the terminal -- for years and don’t imagine working anywhere else in the harbor.

“We take pride in what we do here and we give 100 percent,” said Mona Garcia, a marine clerk with Local 63 and 22 years on the waterfront. She is the on-the-ground eyes and ears to Ginny Sima, the “supercargo” – the equivalent of an air traffic controller – who coordinates the flow of cargo information between the vessel and ground crews and is also a 22-year veteran. “We have a choice,” said Garcia, “and we choose to be here.”

That camaraderie has been characteristic of Pier A, where productivity has steadily improved over time. In the last several years, the average grew from 28 moves per hour to 33 moves hour last May, said Randy Galosic, general manager of Pier A.

“You don’t do numbers like these without total teamwork from all the longshore workers and mechanics to the office staff,” Galosic said. “All departments are working together for a common goal, and the results have been amazing.”

In an era when much of the industry is focused on investing in capital improvements and the latest technology for the future, management and labor at both SSA-run terminals say they are especially proud of what they have achieved to give customers consistently top-notch waterfront service in the here and now.

‘A team effort’

“It’s a team effort,” said crane operator Marel Espino, who set the 66 moves-per-hour record with Shawn Robinson. Espino has 16 years on the waterfront, with six years as a steady at PCT. Robinson, who has the same number of years at PCT, has worked on the waterfront since 1982. “It’s everyone … the top handlers, the UTR drivers, the swingmen, the signalmen, the bosses, the clerks, the mechanics and management,” Espino said.

The 61-moves-per-hour record was set by crane operator Rick McCray, a 19-year veteran with five years at Pier A. Like Espino, McCray was quick to credit his co-workers. “We all take pride in our work.”

The records started March 7 when PCT crane operators Jennifer Lakos and Robert Garrabrant did 413 lifts in a single shift, averaging 51.63 moves per hour. On May 9, Pier A crane operators Mark Palito and Brian Muir moved 414 containers, edging up the average to 51.75 per hour.

The latest records followed the May 12 start of negotiations for a new contract between the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents terminals and shipping lines at 29 West Coast ports, and the ILWU, which represents nearly 20,000 workers who move the cargo. Workers and management at PCT and Pier A says the timing is coincidental: Skill and teamwork made the cargo flow.

A little friendly competition helps. So do “twin 20s” – two 20-foot containers discharged or loaded simultaneously by a single crane in one maneuver that counts as two lifts.

For PCT, May 17 was also a landmark day on a larger scale. Six gangs working every crane did 1,938 moves, for an overall average of 40.38 lifts per hour. “That’s an amazing feat,” Kostich said. “The more gangs you have, the harder it is to coordinate everyone.”

More recently, PCT set the record for the highest number of container moves for a single ship calling at the Port of Long Beach. In early June, the terminal team moved a total of 21,958 TEUs in 11,481 lifts while discharging and loading the Cosco Excellence. The vessel, which has a capacity of 13,100 TEUs, is one of the biggest ships now regularly calling at Long Beach.

Labor and management take added pride in setting new records without compromising safety. For 2013, SSA’s Long Beach-Los Angeles operations earned it the PMA’s first-place Coast Accident Prevention Award among stevedoring companies with the highest number of man-hours – 400,000 or more per year. SSA’s other operations in Long Beach are its Pier C container terminal, which serves Matson, and its SSA/Crescent terminal, which handles breakbulk cargo.

The companies are pushing for productivity and workers are, too, because it supports the larger supply chain of jobs, said Vincent Salcido, a steady foreman with 29 years on the docks, eight of them at Pier A. Everyone understands the ripple effect beyond the waterfront, he added. “Higher productivity benefits us all: labor, the Port and the economy.”

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