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Port of Baltimore container terminal closes for more than two hours Thursday due to 'ongoing labor job action'

The port of Baltimore’s booming container terminal closed its doors to trucks for more than two hours Thursday afternoon due to an “ongoing labor job action,” according to Ports America Chesapeake, which manages the terminal.
The port of Baltimore’s booming container terminal closed its doors to trucks for more than two hours Thursday afternoon due to an “ongoing labor job action,” according to Ports America Chesapeake, which manages the terminal. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

The port of Baltimore’s booming container terminal closed its doors to trucks for more than two hours Thursday afternoon due to an “ongoing labor job action,” according to Ports America Chesapeake, which manages the terminal.

Seagirt Marine Terminal closed at noon and re-opened at 2:15 p.m., the Maryland Port Administration said.

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“It was, in a nutshell, due to issues with the International Longshoremen’s Association,” Port Administration spokesman Richard Scher said Thursday. “This was an employer-employee issue between the ILA and the Steamship Trade Association.”

The latest shutdown of the terminal came one day before the next arbitration hearing to resolve a lawsuit in which management claimed longshoremen illegally walked off the job in October. That stoppage prevented more than 1,000 truckers from receiving their cargo and caused some shipping lines to threaten to move their cargo shipments to other ports, the Steamship Trade Association said in court filings.

The underlying cause of the labor unrest is unclear. The recent disruptions follow the approval in early October of a six-year master contract governing the handling of shipping containers at ports from Maine to the Gulf Coast. Members of Local 333 subsequently approved a new local contract with the Steamship Trade Association.

As he did in October, Scott Cowan, president of the ILA Local 333, which represents roughly 2,000 Baltimore dockworkers, disputed that any work stoppage had taken place on Thursday. Cowan’s 2016 election ended an 18-month takeover of the local by its national union following a 2014 strike.

Cowan called the reports by Ports America Chesapeake and Maryland Port Administration of a union walk-off “absolutely not true.”

He instead blaming Thursday’s closure on congestion in the terminal.

“It was too many trucks in the yard,” he said. “It’s just busy. All our men are on the job working.”

Bayard Hogans, vice president of Ports America Chesapeake, did not respond to requests for comment. The company, which is a member of the Steamship Trade Association, operates Seagirt Marine Terminal through a partnership with the state.

“Due to the ongoing labor job action we are temporarily closing the Seagirt gate at 12:00,” Ports America Chesapeake said in an alert Thursday. “We will keep the community posted should the conditions change.”

The company later posted a “RE-OPEN NOTICE” on its website, advising the terminal would resume operations at 2:15 p.m.

Cowan said he hopes Friday’s arbitration hearing will be fruitful, but he declined to give specifics on what he called “outstanding issues.” The local’s attempts to resolve them through arbitration, he said, have fallen on deaf ears so far.

“The local definitely wants a resolution to the matter so we can move forward and increase the cargo coming through the port,” he said. “We need to be partners, not adversaries. … I don’t feel like we’ve been treated as a partner.”

Many of Local 333’s top officials have worked at the port for two decades or more, the union president said.

“We know how things work and what needs to be done,” Cowan said. “We give suggestions, and they’re not entertained.”

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Scher said the Port Administration had been in contact with both labor and management regarding Thursday’s terminal closure.

“We always encourage both sides to come to an understanding,” he said, “and we were relieved to hear that Ports America Chesapeake made decision to reopen Seagirt Marine Terminal.”

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