One of the few bright spots in the state economy is the continued improvement at the Port of Baltimore. When the books closed for the fiscal year ending June 30, the local port showed a $2.4 million profit. Even as the economic doldrums continue to dog Maryland businesses, Baltimore's port is laying the foundation for a promising future.
Cargo figures are up in key categories, shipping lines are extending contracts here, auto exports look like a winner, automation of the last of its primary container-handling terminals nTC will be completed next spring and -- most important of all -- peace and stability reign on the waterfront.
Just two weeks ago, the International Longshoremen's Association voted by better than a 7-1 margin in favor of extending its existing contract with management for two more years. In fact, longshoremen agreed to give up a $1 an hour pay raise so the money could be used to bulk up the workers' health benefits. "There's no cloud over our head now," said Edward Burke, a local union president. And there's no cloud over the port's head, either.
Baltimore's past problems with labor have proved damaging. The 1989 three-day ILA strike re-enforced the image of a port with deep labor unrest. But since then, a concerted effort on the part of ILA officials, management and state leaders seems to have led to an era of peaceful coexistence.
That's vital for the port's success. Without a good labor climate, steamship lines won't even consider Baltimore as a port of call. The local unions now seem to recognize that being cooperative with management can lead to more cargo -- and more jobs for its workers. Witness the extension of Evergreen Marine Corp.'s agreement to use the modern Seagirt Marine Terminal until 1997.
Still, Baltimore remains at a disadvantage because of the local unions' guaranteed annual income provision that ensures workers a minimum income even if they can't find work on the docks. The continuation of the GAI will cost companies an additional $12 million.
Despite this obstacle, officials in Baltimore have done a good job selling the port's strengths. Administrator Adrian Teel has revamped the state's operation under a market-oriented commission with expanded power to run the port in a business-like manner. Cost containment, sharper focus on goals and aggressive efforts to win new cargo for Baltimore have started to pay off.