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Abstract

The port industry has undergone substantial structural changes during the last fifteen years. The emergence of Global Terminal Operators, a global oligopolistic market consolidation; the changes in liner shipping through vertical and horizontal integration; the new structure of the Global Production Networks in relation to the emerging technologies are only few of the factors that influenced fundamentally port labor. Ports are not isolated functional nodes of the transportation chain any more, but are mostly a fundamental component of a seamless supply chain, working along with satellite and inland terminals. At the same time marine terminals are functioning more and more as extended warehouses, providing flexible virtual inventory. These developments have created substantial challenges to the port labor regarding the need for upgraded working skills, enhanced productivity, ability to follow flexible working conditions to mention a few. Unionized port labor has been traditionally highly inflexible in changing attitude and adapting to new port work practices. On the other hand, the explosion of port service demand in emerging economies and particularly in East Asia was followed by an unprecedented increase in port productivity, coupled by flexibility in port working practice that cannot be accepted by unionized port labor in the US and Europe. The paper examines some of the current challenges and implications for the US East Coast port labor force – the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) - due to the global developments in international trade and global port operations. It proposes that future research incorporate a broad range of disciplines in order to better understand the competitive environment facing longshoremen.

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