LONG BEACH, California - Major West Coast ports could shut down next spring if enough workers fail to acquire and carry the new Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card by April 15, 2009, a trade association official told stakeholders at the Maritime Security Expo Wednesday.
Nationwide, approximately 400,000 TWIC cards have been activated, according to a Congressional source, only one third of the 1.2 million the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) estimates are required.
Similarly, Marc MacDonald, vice president of accident prevention for the Pacific Maritime Association—which represents 71 cargo carriers, terminal operators, and stevedores—says that of the roughly 25,000 port workers on the West Coast that need the TWIC, only 30 percent have applied for it.
In addition to registered workers, who are members of the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union (ILWU), port operations rely heavily on casual workers, or day laborers. At the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach, for example, casual workers make up 50 percent of the workforce.
Because the slow economy has cut labor demand at ports, many casual workers haven't applied for the TWIC, MacDonald says. The TWIC application costs $132.50 in fees.
Furthermore, the Transportation Security Administration takes 6 to 8 weeks to process each application it receives. MacDonald fears that a backlog of applications could result if workers wait until the last minute to apply, which when in combination with workers not applying for the necessary card, could bring commerce on the West Coast to a "grinding halt."
Individuals that do not have the TWIC cards must be escorted around secured port areas, according to the regulations. Some port workers have perceived this to mean that when they need access to a secure area, a terminal operator can provide an escort. MacDonald, however, says the escort provision was only meant to apply to visitors or guests, not port workers that need frequent and regular access to a port's secure areas.
"Container terminals will shut down if we have to escort longshoremen" into restricted and secure areas, MacDonald says.
The TWIC program allows marine terminal operators to determine whether or not they will provide escorts to those port workers that do not have a TWIC or have forgotten it that day.
"Escorting is facility specific," says Commander David Murk, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard's Cargo Facilities Division. "It's up to them whether they escort or not."
MacDonald says there is no way terminal operators will escort workers around the port terminals to do their jobs. Workers that need a TWIC card and either do not have one or simply forgot it will be sent home.
"It's economically and operationally infeasible," he says, as ports would have to hire a cadre of escorts to monitor a worker throughout his or her workday. Sometimes, says MacDonald, it won't only cost too much, but it would be dangerous as well. He wants to know how terminal operators can escort a crane operator when the regulations say escorts must remain "side by side" in a restricted area. "There's only one seat in a crane," MacDonald says.
The TWIC program was established by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 and the SAFE Port Act of 2006 mandated that workers carry biometric identification cards to access secure port facilities. The nation's 361 ports have had staggered deadlines for TWIC compliance. For instance, because of its size, the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach doesn't need to be compliant until April 14, 2009, a day before the final national deadline for TWIC cards for all workers that need unescorted access.
But with five months until the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach's deadline and 70 percent of workers still needing to apply, MacDonald isn't confident that everyone that needs a TWIC card will receive one in time.
TWIC's compliance deadline will not change, says Denise Krepp, senior counsel for the House Homeland Security Committee
"If you wait until March to apply for a card you're not going to get it [in time]," Krepp told maritime security stakeholders at the expo.