Picket lines go up at port Some crews reporting for work


Picket lines went up today at the Port of Baltimore as a strike by unionized cargo clerks entered its second day.

Some members of the International Longshoremen's Association continued working despite the protests by ILA Local 953.

Four work crews were dispatched this morning from the ILA's hiring hall, according to a dispatcher there: two to the South Locust Point Marine Terminal and two to a privately owned auto terminal at Fairfield.

"As far as I know, everybody that is supposed to be working, is," said the dispatcher.

A manager at South Locust Point said only one of the crews was working.

Small groups of strikers picketed outside the Dundalk Marine Terminal and the nearby Seagirt Marine Terminal. Three placard-carrying pickets walked in front of the North Locust Point Marine Terminal.

At each location, pickets were outnumbered by city, state and toll facilities police braced for trouble. No problems had been reported as of early this afternoon.

"We didn't think it would come to this, but it has," David Thornston said as he picketed in the rain with five other strikers at the Dundalk Marine Terminal. "We all hope it will be resolved soon, and we have faith that it will."

Perry Wilson said he hopes the strike does not last any longer a day or two.

"This is the worst thing to happen at this time of year -- the holidays," Wilson said.

Some members of Local 333, who are not on strike, are openly resentful of the actions by Local 953 and said they would cross the picket lines if they had to. Local 953, representing cargo clerks, bargained its contract apart from the other locals this year because it did not like the settlement reached in January over its objections.

The last strike at the port, a three-day work stoppage in January involving all the port's locals, was also sparked by Local 953. The local had complained to the union's international headquarters in a dispute over jurisdiction, and headquarters ordered work stopped.

Richard P. Hughes Jr., business agent of Local 953, said yesterday that it would not hurt his effort if the other unions crossed the picket lines as long as they were not performing the work of his members.

It was not clear who, if anyone, was performing the clerical work this morning. Ship lines could face fines under their agreement ,, with the ILA if their cargo is handled by non-ILA workers.

One ship, the Atlantic, was at anchor at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and its owners were considering sending it to its next stop, New York, and bringing it back to Baltimore if the strike ends.

ILA members at other ports are prohibited under ILA rules from handling cargo diverted by a strike. However, shipping documents can be altered to disguise the port that was originally supposed to be used.

The receipt and dispatch of cargo by truck from marine terminals had come to a near stop today, port officials said. The clerks operate the gates that process cargo in and out. At a few locations, ship line managers and office workers were performing this work to get cargo in and out, according to one port businessman.

Even if the strike by cargo clerks at the Port of Baltimore was settled today, the port's reputation already has been damaged.

Baltimore has struggled to overcome an image of labor-management instability, and there had been encouraging

signs recently: a peaceful opening of the Seagirt Marine Terminal amid cooperation with the ILA, and joint appearances by labor and management at meetings with potential shipping line customers.

But that seemed to come crashing down yesterday when the 415-member Local 953 announced it was on strike, and began picketing today outside three entrance gates at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.

"The clerks' union has already done tremendous damage to our ability to compete and their actions can ruin the Port of Baltimore," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said in a statement released by his office.

Timothy Collins, vice president of operations at the New York headquarters of Hapag-Lloyd, a major shipping line calling at the port, said, "We've always felt that Baltimore has been a more economical port than Norfolk, Va. Now we have to take an even more serious look."

The port of Norfolk has lured away thousands of tons of cargo over the years that once was handled in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, several members of other ILA locals vowed to work regardless of the clerks' dispute.

"They want the minority to rule the majority. . . . They make the most money and do the least work," said Ron Barhorn, a member of ILA Local 333. He said he would not stop for a clerks' picket line.

Ed Dasch, a member of Local 333, said, "I will not cross the picket line, regardless of what. . . . We're all ILA."

A few vessels were loaded and unloaded yesterday. A crew of about 75 discharged 1,544 cars from the privately owned Atlantic Terminal without checkers -- and did it in the rain, contrary to the port's once-famous reputation for not working in poor weather. A few barges also were processed, said ship line )) officials.

While this was going on, members of the port's other four ILA locals were voting by a 5-to-1 margin in support of a contract agreement reached last week governing their work. The vote was 932 in favor and 171 opposed, with the port's biggest local, No. 333, backing the agreement, 774-94. Hughes' local rejected their proposed contract.

"Overall, the membership was satisfied," said Edward Burke, president of Local 333. The local contract ratified yesterday was a supplement to a national contract ratified two weeks ago.

There were reports last night of contact between Local 953 and the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., a trade group that represents management in the ILA talks. However, Maurice Byan, president of the association, said there had been no meetings and that he hoped the union would reconsider its decision.

Today, management negotiators were meeting at the trade association office and were planning to meet with state officials, according to a source familiar with the talks.

Labor agreements have been reached in New York; Hampton Roads, Va., including Norfolk; and in South Atlantic ports from North Carolina to Florida. Philadelphia is on strike and negotiations were scheduled to resume today.

The dispute in Baltimore comes two weeks after ratification of a national ILA contract and concerns only local "riders" or supplemental agreements that affect work rules left up to each port.

Hughes said he was unhappy chiefly with two elements of the Baltimore proposal. The first was the lack of sufficient guarantees that his members would perform all traditional clerking functions as those functions become computerized.

The second objection Hughes cited was a concern over the possible transfer of money between benefit funds. The national contract ratified two weeks ago allows money to be moved between funds within a port if labor and management both agree. Hughes said he was concerned, however, that a dispute over such a transfer could be lost in arbitration even if his union opposed it.

A letter circulated by the trade association yesterday to ILA officers attempted to head off that issue by reassuring members that no such transfer was planned.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad