Port strike

Omahie Mitchell takes part in the brief longshoremen strike at the Port of Baltimore in October. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun / October 16, 2013)

A federal arbitrator has ordered a local longshoremen's union to pay nearly $4 million in damages after a labor strike in October led to lost revenue at the port of Baltimore.

The damages awarded Friday provide the first estimate for how costly the strike was to the port's employers. They do not include additional losses by businesses — such as trucking outfits — that do not hold contracts with the longshoremen but rely on port cargo for work.

Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 333, confirmed the ruling Tuesday, saying it orders the union to pay about $3.8 million.

McKenzie said union officials are looking for ways to appeal the ruling and avoid paying.

"We disagree with the arbitrator's whole handling of the entire process. That's our position," he said. "We're still in the discussion process as to how we're going to move forward."

The strike shut the port's public terminals for three days, curtailing what is normally a steady flow of cargo from ships into warehouses for processing and onto tractor-trailers and trains for transport.

No one has attempted to estimate the total amount of money lost during the strike, and it was unclear Tuesday whether the awarded damages were meant to account for ongoing revenue losses associated with diminished trust in labor stability at the port. Officials have confirmed, but not quantified, cargo diversions in the last couple of weeks as the contract dispute that sparked the strike continues.

McKenzie would not comment on how the damages would be paid were they to stand, including whether they would be paid solely by Local 333 or with financial assistance from the International Longshoremen's Association, which represents locals up and down the coast.

Jim McNamara, an ILA spokesman, declined to comment on the arbitrator's award or how it would be paid. Daryl Wilburn, Local 333's secretary treasurer, also declined to comment.

Michael Angelos, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore, which represents port employers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The association has posted past rulings in the case by the arbitrator, M. David Vaughn, on its website, but has not made the damages ruling available. Nor has the union.

Vaughn declined to comment on the case.

The strike in mid-October began amid contentious negotiations over a local contract between Local 333 and the Steamship Trade Association. The local contract covers automobiles, forest products and other break bulk cargo, as well as local labor conditions.

When Local 333 went on strike, Baltimore's three other ILA unions honored the picket lines despite already having signed local contracts of their own.

Vaughn then ruled the strike invalid because it violated a "no-strike" provision of a separate master contract for container cargo up and down the East Coast.

"The violations described have caused and are causing substantial and potentially irreparable harm and injury to STA members and customers and are causing losses of revenues and customer goodwill and have jeopardized future business at the Port," Vaughn wrote in an Oct. 18 ruling.

Following that ruling, Local 333 and the STA agreed to a 90-day "cooling-off" period so workers could return to work as negotiations continued. That period ended earlier this month. The two parties remain at odds over the local contract, but have promised not to strike or force a lockout.

McKenzie, of Local 333, has said there remain "mandatory issues of negotiation" that still need to be discussed, such as how jobs are awarded to union members. The STA has said its best-and-final offer is already on the table.

Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, said it is "critical to have labor harmony" at the port, and the October strike was "not good for our port's reputation."

krector@baltsun.com

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