STA working to put wind back in Port's sails


One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Maurice Byan was appointed interim president of the Steamship Trade Association last August and recently was appointed president.

Q. Can you briefly explain what the Steamship Trade Association is and how it began?

A. It's an association of maritime-related businesses or businesses that do maritime work, not necessarily just employers of ILA (International Longshoreman's Association). We represent these firms in dealings with the ILA, such as contract negotiations and administration of negotiations--also in trusteeship of the various ILA funds.

Q. And how did this organization begin?

A. It began in 1929. The companies at that time felt that rather than dealing with the union separately, to have an association -- not just in dealing with the unions but in dealing with business matters -- an association has force.

Q. Describe your own involvement in the STA.

A. Well, previously I was with the stevedoring company called Clark Maryland Terminals, and we were a a member of the Steamship Trade Association of Maryland, so I participated in trades, various committees [and] trusteeships, and I was also a director on the board.

Q. Can you tell me about your history with the Port?

A. I began my career on the waterfront in 1964 as a longshoreman in what was then Local 829, which is now 333. And I worked as a longshoreman until 1969 -- 5 years. Then I accepted a position in management in the operations department in what was then John T. Clark & Son. That was the predecessor of Clark Maryland Terminals. Basically, my career stayed with John T. Clark until 1984, when the company was sold to Furness Withy Terminals Ltd., a company that has terminals worldwide and is based out of the United Kingdom. Prior to the sale, I was vice president of operations and then after the sale, I was executive vice president, and in 1985, became president.

Q. Are you still associated with Clark Maryland?

A. Not since August . . . As president of the STA, you have to devote your full time -- this is a full-time position.

Q. When you went to work as a longshoreman, how old were you?

A. 19.

Q. When you switched from labor to management, was that a big adjustment for you?

A. Somewhat. But it was an easy adjustment. Labor relations back then were much easier . . . And the port was very busy, so that made for better labor relations.

Q. Have your own experiences in the ILA helped you?

A. I think it has, yes. You understand the problems of the longshoreman.

Q. How is the contract that you negotiated with the ILA working out?

A. I think very well. I been given some very positive responses from some stevedoring companies and steamship lines that it's working out well.

Q. With what aspects are they most pleased?

A. One positive is the midnight starts that we have. It seems that Maersk Lines, which is one of the largest in Baltimore, has used that more than any other line. And they've found it a very economical, cost-saving factor.

Q. I Baltimore has been loosing ground as a port. Has this contract gained you anything?

A. There's a lot of factors as to why we've lost cargo in Baltimore. One of the big mistakes is a lot of people think it's higher labor. That is a big mistake, because they're not the only factor. The contract that was negotiated this past December gives us the ability to bring cargo back. It's attractive in that it offers the midnight starts, the flex hours, reduced GAI (Guaranteed Annual Income), somewhat, [and] a reduced GAI wage, which no other port has done. So there are positives in the contract that can be put to good marketing use, and the STA has been doing that. Our marketing efforts in the Journal of Commerce, where we're pointing out the positives in the contract, have been helpful in promoting Baltimore for the rest of the nation.

Q. Any tangible results, or is it too early?

A. It is kind of early. You have to look, too, at the economic times.

Q. What other things contributed to the loss of cargo?

A. Deregulation of rail that made Baltimore lose its advantage as far as movement of cargo. Chesapeake Bay became a big factor, as steamship lines rationalized their cost and started reducing ports of call. Baltimore became an obvious port to reduce because of that trip up and down the bay. As ships became bigger, the C&P; canal became an obstacle for those big ships to pass through. Some of them can't pass through. And then the labor enters, the labor-management.

Q. In December, you were quoted as saying you believed the rifts between labor and management could be healed. What steps do you see being taken toward that goal?

A. One of the big problems we had was just that lack of communication. Not only between labor and management, but between management and management. We had various other entities in the Port besides Steamship Trade. I was discussing the point that Steamship Trade is the only entity. They are part of this Port and that's all. I think by opening up the communication with these various other organizations, we can include labor and management.

Q. That sounds like an easy thing to do. Open up communications. Pick up the telephone . . .

A. But everyone has varied interests.

Q. What's the problem, why can't they communicate? Why can't they be open?

A. Well, let's say it has begun to be open. Why it wasn't done previously? The atmosphere, I guess, in Baltimore two years ago . . . everybody kind of withdrew into their own shell because of the uncertainty of the labor contracts. We've just negotiated and finalized a four-year contract, but that was two years in the

negotiation. Not only here in Baltimore, but all ports have the same problem. So the instability lends itself to discontent, again, not only labor, but among management.

Q. You say that's changing?

A. I think so, yes.

Q. What are some examples of how that's changing?

A. Well, we have opened up communications. We've had meetings, not just with the members of the Steamship Trade Association, but also the Maryland Maritime Association, Custom House Brokers and Freight Haulers Association and Maryland Truckers Association. These are all very important entities and heretofore they were concerned but never really addressed.

Q. What are the nature of these meetings?

A. The purpose of the meetings is to find out what are our concerns and how can we make our Port operate more efficiently by talking to the agents, the freight holders and the truckers. I stressed, too, that the clerks of the [ILA locals] 953 and the 333 have been participating in these talks.

Q. What was the impetus for these talks?

A. I think we finally realized in this Port that we had to do something.

Q. Last year, the Steamship Trade Association was in an uproar with allegations that the former president, Bill Detweiler, had mismanaged pension funds and used his influence to get his son a job. About the same time, a number of members left. Have you had any success in repairing the image of the organization and in reuniting the Port's management?

A. First, the allegations against the past president were something that were not a factor at all. The STA did suffer image wise. Again, I think this is because of our being isolated from the rest of the port community in dealing with the ILA. I think once we opened up those lines of communication with the other entities in this Port, the damage was repaired, and some members of the organization have come back into the Steamship Trade.

Q. Could you explain a little about how you've gone about repairing the damage. I don't understand how talking alone does it.

A. Well, talking does a lot when you didn't have any dialogue at all in the past.

Q. It seems like every day there is more bad news about the Port. Do you see any signs to be optimistic about the Port's future?

A. I think in the long term Baltimore's going to be a viable port and I think we're going to have growth, but not the growth that we would like to see. But then again, I don't think any other East Coast port is going to have that either . . . I think we can still be a major port. Don't diminish Baltimore as a shining star on the East Coast. I think in the Mid-Atlantic range, we are still going to be a dominant port.

Q. How is the port volume? Down? Up? Steady?

A. It's been kind of stagnant . . . steady for the past year.

Q. Can you predict how it will be in 1991?

A. Probably the same as 1990. No great big growth. Over the next five years, yeah, we anticipate growth; but again, not to the extent that everybody would like to see.

Q. What would you consider a success in five years?

A. In terms of tonnage, say another million and a half, two million tons.

Q. What are you doing currently?

A. About 5 million tons.

Q. It has been alleged that the state has interfered with labor negotiations and put pressure on management in the negotiations. Do you agree? Has the Schaefer administration been too heavy-handed in port matters?

A. I think the state has a very high stake in the future of the port -- obviously through investments that they've made. They're more or less protecting the taxpayers investment. They're influencing the trade associations as necessary. I think that they are certainly within their rights. It's because of them that there are the new facilities (Seagirt Marine Terminal) that we have.

Q. Do you have any personal goals for this year, now that you're here?

A. Just working with the rest of the Port to make Baltimore that shining star on the East Coast, which in turn will mean more employment for everybody.

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