Longshoremen John Blom and Michael Strozykowski watched as the crane hoist slowly descended toward them deep in the hold of the Samar Victory, a ship unloading 15,600 tons of wood pulp in the port of Baltimore.
When the chains dangling from the hoist came to rest on a tier obales stacked against the wall of the hold, the two dockworkers scrambled on their hands and knees into the narrow space between the hoist and the bales. Moving rapidly down the row, the men snapped hooks on the end of the chains to the wires binding the wood pulp. In a matter of a few seconds, the hoist was secured to 10 bales.
On a signal from the men in the hold to the crane operator in hicab high overhead, 20 tons of pulp rose up briskly into the bright blue February sky.
Mr. Blom and Mr. Strozykowski, members of Local 333 of thInternational Longshoremen's Association, work for Tartan Terminals, the stevedoring arm of Baltimore Forest Products Terminals--BalTerm for short. Tartan is one of the few companies in the port whose business is booming. And its executives give most of the credit to the work of people such as Mr. Blom and Mr. Strozykowski.
"Quality and production, that's all we sell," said John T. MenzieIII, chairman of the Terminal Corp., Tartan's Baltimore-based sister company.
That means the success of BalTerm and Tartan is directldependent on how carefully and how quickly its ILA workers handle the bales as they are lifted out of the ship, lowered onto flatbed trailers and delivered to a nearby warehouse.
Mr. Menzies and his brother, Scott S. Menzies, created Tartan i1988 to provide the specialized handling required for unloading paper and lumber--cargoes that are easily damaged--from ships.
Terminal Corp. provides the warehousing and transshipment services.
BalTerm was created in 1990 as a partnership between the Menzies and a Montreal forest-products stevedoring company. Customers deal with BalTerm, which buys stevedoring and warehousing services from Tartan and Terminal.
The companies owned and managed by the Menzies arsucceeding in boosting the amount of cargo moving through Baltimore. Volume has grown from about 50,000 tons in 1988 to about 230,000 tons in the last year, almost a fivefold increase. The company's lease with the Maryland Port Administration calls for that figure to double again by 1992. If BalTerm were a steamship line, its tonnage would rank it among the top five in the port.
"Our tonnage speaks for itself. Our business has doubled everyear," said Scott Menzies, who is the president of BalTerm.
How has this Baltimore-based, family-owned business done it? Ilarge part, the answer seems to reside in the way the company treats its employees and the way the employees treat the company in return.
Scott Menzies said that Tartan Terminals is" no just anothestevedoring company." Its foundations, he said, are "respect and mutual support."
That principle permeates much of modern management theoryIt is hardly a novel idea that if you treat employees well and show a genuine concern for their interests, they will identify more strongly with the company and work more diligently in its interest. Management theory aside, showing concern for the welfare of employees is a simple matter of human decency.
Despite the simplicity and power of this idea, it seems to havhad found very little application on the Baltimore waterfront. When the Menzies brothers started showing up on the pier to meet the dockworkers and talk to them, the longshoremen were startled. When the brothers continued to show up for each ship )) and greeted the workers by name, they were amazed. And when the company invited them to dinner to discuss the company's business prospects, they began to believe they had hooked up with something truly unusual.
They invite us to dinner once a year. That's more than any othecompany's ever done for me,' Mr. Strozykowski said while waiting for the crane hoist to return for another load of pulp.
Mr. Blom agreed that something as simple as a handshakmakes a difference. Other employers, he said, act as though they fear getting dirty if they get close enough to touch the workers. "People didn't want to produce for them," he said. For Tartan, on the other hand, the ILA crews "want to go the extra mile."
The temptation is to dismiss the handshakes and the free dinners as cheap paternalism.
But the crew in the hold of the Samar Victory see it as runninmuch deeper, entailing a concern for the workers' safety that could mean the difference between life and death.
Lawrence Gresham, one of the four men working in the hold othe Samar Victory, observed, "Any problem we have we can take to them. These people actually check it out for themselves."
Jarome Lawson, the fourth member of the crew, said th company altered the rigging of the hoist because of problems workers pointed out .
And a problem doesn't have to entail the threat of severe injurto get the company to act. The hoist has a crossbar at each end that hangs down about a foot. Men working directly under the hoist constantly bump up against the steel bars. To make the work a little bit less bruising, the company has encased the bars in padding. The men still bump into the bars, but it doesn't hurt as much.
"I've never found a company as good as this," Mr. Gresham said"We can talk to the top."
Because of the climate that Tartan has created, Mr. Lawson said "It feels good to come to work."
It's a feeling that helps to increase productivity. "You try to worto give them something," he said.
And give they do. The wood pulp Tartan handles in Baltimorused to move through Newark, N.J. According to Scott Menzies, the best production rates there were about 260 tons an hour. The two crews Tartan employs In Baltimore routinely handle 300 tons and frequently achieve rates of 320 tons to 340 tons an hour.
"These production rates are not coming because we're dowthere beating on these guys," said Scott Menzies. "Our focus has been first safety, then quality."
Because of the nature of the commodity they are handlingquality is at least as important as production. High production doesn't matter if the material is rendered unusable by damage or dirt.
Wood pulp moved through Baltimore is produced froeucalyptus trees grown on plantations in Brazil.
Since it is used in products such as disposable diapers ansanitary napkins, it must be kept scrupulously clean. "You can't get grease on it; You can't get it wet," John Menzies explained.
Here again the handling it receives as it is unloaded from the ship and stored in the warehouse is absolutely crucial. The ships are unloaded by cargo handlers belonging to ILA Local 333. The flatbed trucks that bring the pulp from the ship are unloaded in the warehouse by members of ILA Local 1429.
Tartan's success at increasing production and maintaining higquality standards benefits everyone in the wood-pulp production and distribution chain. Higher productivity means it costs less to unload a ship. Under its contracts, Tartan shares the savings with the shippers. Maintaining the integrity of the goods assures the satisfaction of the U.S. paper companies buying the pulp. That allows the Brazilians to expand their sales and increase the number of ships coming to Baltimore.
That is how it has worked. That does not mean that everyone iperfectly happy with the status quo. There is still not nearly enough work to keep Tartan's two stevedoring gangs employed full-time. Roman Pedzich, a regular member of one of the two crews, said he logged about 500 hours for Tartan last year. That works out to less than 10 hours a week.
Much of the work is at overtime rates. On the Samar Victory, thtwo gangs worked 31 hours--14 Friday, nine Saturday and eight on Sunday. Under the ILA contract, 23 of those hours would be paid at overtime rates. Even so, to make a living the Tartan crews have to scrape around for whatever other work they can find on the docks.
Part of Tartan's labor-management approach is to try to keep thlongshoremen informed about the company's business plans and growth prospects. Based on that information and Tartan's record of steady growth, the longshoremen are hopeful--optimistic is probably too strong a word--that the number of ships will keep increasing until the crews can begin working something approaching 40 hours a week.
"If they can get enough work to keep us busy, everyone woulbe happy," Mr. Blom said.
Scott Menzies agrees that good labor relations are importantbut he knows you can't eat them. "It's nice if we're nice guys, but if we don't have enough work it doesn't cut the mustard," he said.
He is confident that the company has hit upon a winning formula"If we keep working together, I'm sure the tonnage will come," he said.
Tartan's approach seems so simple, so direct. Yet it is unheard of on the waterfront, according to Steve Medura, the gearman who is responsible for keeping Tartan's equipment operating.
"I've been on the waterfront since 1962, and I never worked wita company like this.... I've seen cooperation from labor I've never seen before," he said. "If the rest of the companies acted like Tartan and followed their practices, this port would be booming."