ILA reaches tentative port pact Deadline passes; bargaining continues


Because of an editing error, an article yesterday in The Sun about port negotiations said Baltimore longshoremen earlier this year rejected a midnight start for work on ships. In fact, it was longshoremen in Hampton Roads, Va., who had rejected a midnight start, although they changed their minds after a meeting Wednesday.

Baltimore longshoremen agreed to a midnight start as part of the tentative contract they will vote on tomorrow.

Negotiators trying to avert a strike in the port of Baltimore reached a tentative accord with four longshoremen's locals early yesterday morning but still needed to reach agreement with a fifth local before the expiration of the contract at midnight last night.

The proposed settlement drew the port back from the threat of a strike, which arose when the four locals of the International Longshoremen's Association rejected management's "final offer" on Tuesday.

Just before 4 a.m. yesterday, after nine hours of intense talks, Maurice C. Byan, the chief negotiator for management, announced a proposed settlement had been reached with ILA members -- three-fourths of the port's dockworkers, including cargo handlers, mechanics, grain handlers and carpenters.

"There will be no work stoppage," Mr. Byan said. The labor stability afforded by the four-year agreement and the efficiencies of the port's new Seagirt Marine Terminal should help Baltimore become more competitive, Mr. Byan said.

"This is the basis for getting us into the 1990s," he said. "Hopefully we can put our labor problems behind us.

Horace Alston, the top ILA official also hailed the agreement. "The ILA is happy," he said.

Management negotiators, most of whom had little or no sleep Thursday night, were back at the bargaining table last night in last-ditch talks with Richard P. Hughes Jr., leader of the clerks and checkers of Local 953. Mr. Byan expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached with the clerks. Talks with Mr. Hughes, he said, have remained "on a positive track."

The talks continued past the midnight deadline, but there was no indication of a work stoppage.

The contract proposal reached yesterday must still be ratified by the membership of the four locals, which are scheduled to vote on Monday. Until then the longshoremen will continue to work under an extension of the existing contract.

Earlier this year, Baltimore was the only port on the East Coast to go out on strike, after other ILA ports had agreed to 14-month extensionsof their contracts.

That strike lasted three days, and many people have warned that a strike would undermine a year of concerted effort, led by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, to convince the shipping industry that Baltimore has resolved its labor problems.

The agreement reached yesterday morning was a vindication of the strategy of Local 333 President Edward Burke in holding out for a more generous offer.

Management wanted the union to agree to much stricter rules governing the guaranteed annual income program that pays benefits to longshoremen when they cannot find work on the docks.

The offer rejected earlier this week would have required workers to log at least 300 hours of work in two of the last three years to maintain their eligibility. The accord reached last night reduces that number to 200 hours. As a result fewer longshoremen will be cut from the GAI rolls than management had hoped.

By holding out, the union also succeeded in reducing the cuts management wanted to make in the crews that load and unload ships. The master contract worked out last month in Florida allowed all ILA ports to reduce their ship gangs by one worker in the first year of the contract and by a second worker in the third year.

Mr. Burke's principal goal has been to save those two jobs for his members. In the end management agreed to forgo cutting one of the two workers permitted under the local contract.

In return the union agreed to two major changes sought by management -- more flexible hours in the operation of terminals and a midnight start for work on ships.

The midnight start makes it much less expensive for ship lines to work their ships at night.

The base wage, set by the master contract, will be $19 an hour in the first year of the contract and increase $1 in each of the next three years.

Local 333 held a membership meeting last night to explain the local proposal it its members.

"It looks to me it's not really bad," said McKinley Richardson, 63, who has worked as a longshoreman for 23 years. "I don't want a strike for no GAI. I'll vote for it."

Brian Czajkowski, 38, with 21 years on the docks, said he thinks those who collect GAI will vote against the contract, but he expects them to be outnumbered by other union members. Expressing a sentiment that appeared to be shared by many of the longshoremen, he said many of people who will be cut are "abusing the GAI system."

Local 333, which represents cargo handlers, is the largest ILA unit in the port. Its 1,250 members constitute more than half of the 2,000 longshoremen in the port.

Baltimore's chief competitor, the port of Hampton Roads, Va., reached agreement with its labor force yesterday. In a very close ballot, longshoremen there ratified the contract 597-461.

The key issue at Hampton Roads was the midnight starting time, an issue that the Baltimore longshoremen had rejected overwhelmingly earlier this year. On Wednesday, union leaders, management representatives and port officials met the membership to plead with them to change their minds and adopt the midnight start. And they did.

Joseph Dorto, the general manager of Virginia International Terminals, the state subsidiary that operates the public docks in Hampton Roads, said the failure to adopt the midnight start would have "turned the tide" in the competition between the ports.

Major provisions of contract

* To qualify for guaranteed annual income, a longshoreman would have to have worked at least 200 hours in two of the last three years. Under old contract, 700 hours were required in either 1982 or 1983. Change will eliminate workers who have collected benefits even though they may not have worked on docks in years.

* Ship-loading crews in Baltimore would not be reduced in the first year of contract. Other ports, under terms of master contract, are expected to cut one worker from 20-member crews in the first year of contact and to cut a second worker in third year.

* Flexible starting times would permit terminals to open earlier and close later. Under existing contract, terminals are open 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. till 5 p.m

* Midnight starting time for ship-loading operations would be added. Under the existing rules, longshoremen working on ships at night must be paid starting at 7 p.m., even if the ship does not arrive until hours later. The midnight start would make it much less expensive for ship lines to work their ships at night. Crews beginning work at midnight would receive at least eight hours' pay, six at time and a half and two at double time.

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