Richard P. Hughes Jr., the former leader of the International Longshoremen's Association who worked in the Baltimore docks before the advent of metal shipping containers and forklifts, died Wednesday, the ILA announced.
Hughes, a lifelong Baltimorean, was the eighth president of the ILA from July 2007 until July 2011, and was elected president emeritus. He died in Baltimore at the age of 79, according to a statement from ILA. The cause of death was not provided.
"Rich Hughes' accomplishments throughout his long career with the ILA were vast and his memory will endure," current ILA President Harold J. Daggett said in the statement.
Hughes, a third-generation dockworker, started working in the Baltimore port in 1954. He joined ILA Local 953 in 1957, representing the clerical "checkers," and served there for five decades in a variety of leadership positions, according to the ILA.
When Hughes first started working on the docks, items were crammed into crates and were unloaded by hand. Large metal shipping containers were introduced in the 1960s, with the increased efficiency leading to a decline in organized labor's power to lobby for better wages and benefits.
The changes in the Atlantic coast ports also caused bitter competition for shipments among cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Norfolk, and by owners of private terminals. At times, the state sought to trim jobs at the port in an effort to increase its competitiveness. Hughes led a strike after dozens of checkers were laid off in 1990, winning back some of the jobs that were lost.
The ILA was organized in 1892 in the Great Lakes region. Now it represents more than 65,000 members on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, along major U.S. rivers, in Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada.
Hughes was also a U.S. Navy veteran, the ILA said, serving for 18 months in the 1950s on the U.S.S. Juneau. He married Wilma Anna "Babe" Hughes since 1957, and had five children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, the ILA said. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.