Amid delays at port of Baltimore, longshoremen and management agree to arbitration

Work slowdowns by longshoremen at the port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal are disrupting operations so much that some shipping line customers may move their cargo shipments to other ports, the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore said in a court filing.

The association, which represents the employers of union dockworkers, also said port truckers are threatening to strike after waiting 40 percent longer than normal to pick up and deliver cargo.

The alleged slowdowns continue to occur despite a federal judge ordering dockworkers to work as required in their contract.

While no one would say what the problem is, the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 has agreed to arbitration next Tuesday to resolve the dispute with management, according to a joint status report filed in federal court. The trade association filed a federal lawsuit against the local on Oct. 30, claiming dockworkers illegally walked off the job, forcing Seagirt to shut down for a day.

The Maryland Port Administration encouraged both sides to settle the dispute “for the good of the Port of Baltimore,” spokesman Richard Scher said in a statement Wednesday.

“This is a labor-management issue,” Scher said. “Nobody wins when disputes like this occur. “

Local 333 president Scott Cowan, who previously denied a work stoppage took place, declined to comment.

The 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.

This is the second time in five years the port has experienced labor unrest. Local 333 went on strike for three days in 2014. The local was subsequently taken over by the international union and its leadership was ousted.

The Steamship Trade Association offered no other details in the early November court filing about customers that are threatening to take their cargo to other ports.

Michael J. Collins, an attorney representing the trade association, referred questions to Michael Angelos, the president of the association, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The association said in its court filing that problems on the truck-servicing line have hurt the operations of 450 trucking companies and 1,400 drivers, and overall production “is not close to meeting historical norms.”

“If this lack of productivity continues, truckers will no longer enter the terminal,” the association wrote in the court filing.

In a response filed with the court, the union local said it could not confirm whether delays had occurred, but it suggested that management has not used overtime to address the delays or punished any longshoremen for not working as required, as alleged, “despite its ability and right to do so.”

Management “has deviated from past practice concerning soliciting overtime work,” the local wrote, “and such changes may have contributed to delays, if any.”

The local said it had no information regarding a truckers’ strike and had not communicated with the truckers, whom it does not represent. The union said it “has acted to encourage labor to work as directed and to take overtime work.”

Trucks, which historically have taken 76 minutes to be serviced at the port, waited 106 minutes as of Nov. 1, and even longer, 119 minutes, on Oct. 30 and 31, according to the Steamship Trade Association.

The Maryland Motor Truck Association is prohibited under federal antitrust laws from participating in or encouraging any work stoppage or coordinated labor action by its members, said president Louis Campion.

He said he had “no knowledge” of any truckers’ strike, but members of the truck association, which represents 1,000 trucking companies and independent drivers across the state, have expressed their frustrations loudly with the delays at the port.

Competition for drivers among industries is already fierce, Campion said, and some are specifically citing the continuing labor unrest in the port in their decisions to seek different jobs. One company said it lost three drivers last week to jobs in other industries, and another company said it had hired a driver who took another job instead to avoid having to deal with “the situation at the port,” Campion said.

“It isn’t going to take long to go elsewhere, because a safe driver can have another job tomorrow if he wants one,” Campion said.

From the truckers to the shipping lines, all the businesses at the port rely on labor stability, he said.

“We’ve got to get some resolution, because this is a very fragile system,” Campion said. “When there’s a hiccup at any level, everybody suffers. We need to resume some normalcy here in Baltimore.”

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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