Illegal union strike shut down port of Baltimore's container terminal Monday, management claims in lawsuit

A federal judge ordered union dockworkers in Baltimore back to work Tuesday, after management at the port of Baltimore said they walked off the job Monday, forcing a shutdown of the port’s container terminal.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander granted a temporary restraining order sought by the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore against the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, “given the irreparable harm that will result to the Port of Baltimore’s business absent temporarily restraining Local 333 from a work stoppage.”

“Plaintiff’s counsel represented that 1,100 truckers did not receive their cargo today and 3,300 will not receive their cargo tomorrow if the [temporary restraining order] is not awarded,” the judge wrote.

Scott Cowan, president of Local 333, whose 2016 election ended an 18-month takeover of the local by its national union following a 2014 strike, said some operators left after their required four-hour work periods, but he disputed that a strike took place.

“There was no work stoppage by the local,” Cowan said Tuesday. “Things get misconstrued sometimes.”

He declined to elaborate, referring questions to the local’s attorney, Brian G. Esders, of Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, a Towson law firm. Esders did not respond to requests for comment.

Bayard Hogans, vice president of Ports America Chesapeake, who signed the legal complaint, 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.

Management said all 31 mechanics working at Seagirt Marine Terminal left Monday, leaving no mechanics on the job, and container handlers left after four hours, the judge wrote, “despite their contractual agreement to complete customers’ requirements if asked to do so.”

No members of the local in the dispatch center accepted any job to replace the union employees who left, the Steamship Trade Association said in its complaint, “which is further demonstration that this is a union orchestrated work stoppage.”

“Without container handling operators storing and moving containers on the terminal lot, the operations at [Seagirt] come to a standstill — and that is what happened today,” the complaint said.

The temporary restraining order, which lasts until Nov. 12, requires the local and management to arbitrate any disputes as required in the master contract and the local collective bargaining agreement.

Maryland Port Administration spokesman Richard Scher confirmed that the terminal closed Monday at noon “because of an equipment operator shortage,” which he characterized as “a labor-management issue.”

It reopened at 6 a.m. Tuesday and “has been operating as normal throughout the day,” Scher said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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