There’s a certain romance to the word “longshoreman.”
But in essence, it simply means loading and unloading cargo ships. Daniel Yi, a spokesman for the Port of Long Beach, told me about the range of skills the job entails. Longshoremen do perform some timeless tasks, like tying a ship to the berth when it comes into port. They may drive imported cars out of a vessel and onto the docks, or do maintenance work around the port. Then there are the highly skilled, technical jobs, like plucking containers from a cargo ship, seated in a crane hundreds of feet in the air.
Container ships and automation have drastically shrunk the number of longshoremen needed, says MIT economist Thomas Kochan. But their unions still hold a lot of power.
“Even though they’re small in number, the service they provide is very pivotal and can’t be replaced,” he says.