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Seeking Port Peace


It is time to end the Port of Baltimore's worldwide reputation for chronic labor problems. That is the only way to revive this port's fortunes and persuade shippers to use Baltimore rather than New York or Norfolk. But it will take the concerted effort of Baltimore's five dockworkers locals to make this happen.

Two strikes in one year have destroyed much of the good will and optimism carefully built up by state officials in their international trade ventures. Both strikes were called by clerks chief Richard P. Hughes Jr., who ultimately won back some of the jobs he had conceded to management early in the year. The cost to the port's good name in maritime circles, though, was considerable.

Other labor leaders are beginning to recognize that fact. They are seeking ways to repair the damage. Horace W. Davis, who is president of the third-largest local in the port, has written to state, maritime and union officials requesting a summit of port leaders to restore unity on the docks. Mr. Davis recognizes that as long as labor retains its adversarial posture toward port management, Baltimore will suffer in comparison with Norfolk's cooperative arrangement between workers and bosses. Baltimore cannot win unless these harmful disputes are resolved.

Dockworkers ought to cheer Mr. Davis' suggestion. If the other locals support his request, a summit meeting can take place that would have a real chance to narrow the gaps that have developed among shippers, labor and the state.

The four-year contract finally approved by local longshoremen harms Baltimore in that it increases benefit costs for management and adds two more union jobs per ship. But the new contract also provides Baltimore with significant benefits. Management gained a substantial degree of flexibility to speed the loading and unloading of cargo. That, combined with the opening of the high-tech Seagirt Marine Terminal, gives Baltimore superb selling points with shipping lines.

Now longshoremen must do their part to turn this new contract to Baltimore's advantage by striving for higher productivity and keeping the port strife-free over the next four years. Mr. Davis' request for a summit of port leaders is an encouraging idea. If his fellow union leaders concur, the Port of Baltimore could start healing its self-inflicted wounds.

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