Baltimore's ILA locals to vote Thursday on six-year contracts for port work

Members of the three International Longshoremen’s Association locals that represent dockworkers in the port of Baltimore are set to vote Thursday on their local contracts with the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore.

The vote on local contracts follows last month’s ratification of a six-year master contract covering the handling of shipping containers at ports from Maine to the Gulf Coast. The local contracts address other commodities, such as autos, forest products and sugar, with the employers of Baltimore’s roughly 2,000 ILA members.

ILA leaders said the Baltimore locals and port management reached a tentative agreement midnight Sunday on a set of six-year local contracts that include more longshoremen jobs for two of the locals, according to union leaders.

The new contracts come amid booming growth at the port and five years after acrimonious contract negotiations resulted in a three-day strike.

The master contract guarantees raises for ILA members working container ships in four of the six years and prohibits fully automated terminal operations at any port covered by the contract, among other provisions. With larger ships calling at ports, the shippers won more flexibility in managing their union workforce in cases when ships do not arrive on schedule.

The presidents of the longshoremen’s Local 333, the checkers and clerks’ Local 953 and the maintenance workers’ Local 1429 expect the local contracts to be approved by their membership.

Michael Angelos, president of the Steamship Trade Association, which represents terminal operators and other employers and manages the labor, did not respond to requests for comment on the contract negotiations.

Scott Cowan, who took over as president of Local 333, the port’s biggest local, in 2016 after an 18-month trusteeship following the strike, said the local contracts reflect the port’s recent success. The port set cargo records in 2017, handling 10.7 million tons of general cargo and the most containers and autos in its history, officials said.

“It’s the best year, tonnage-wise and container-wise, the port’s ever had,” Cowan said. “The relationship [between labor and management] has been getting better, and these contracts are going to show that.”

The contracts were presented to union members Tuesday, he said. Local 333 would gain jobs under the new contract, Cowan said, but declined to discuss specifics of the contract until after the vote Thursday.

ILA Local 953 would gain roughly four new jobs if members vote to ratify the tentative contract, said John Shade, that local’s president.

Two of the jobs will be on the docks at the port’s container terminal, which has seen significant growth following the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, allowing larger container ships from Asia to call on East Coast ports, Shade said. The other two will be at a packaging shed that did not previously use union labor, he said.

The local contract negotiations took several months, Shade said.

“At the end of the day, both sides, union and management, want the same thing,” he said. “The outlook at the port of Baltimore is that the future looks really bright.”

The contract for ILA Local 1429 — which represents the Baltimore port’s line handlers, maintenance and repair workers, lashers, warehousemen and cargo space cleaners — would not add any new jobs, but provides job protections (in addition to those in the master contract) against automation, said John Leichling, the local’s president.

“We did put language in there to preserve work jurisdiction with the implementation of new technology,” he said.

Leichling credited Cowan and Richard P. Krueger, Jr., the union’s Atlantic Coast District vice president, with keeping the negotiations on track.

“All three locals came out with good contracts,” he said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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