NEW YORK -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer publicly made up with the International Longshoremen's Association here yesterday as labor leaders made a symbolic, but important, return to Maryland's annual luncheon for steamship line executives.
ILA leaders had avoided the event since 1989, when Mr. Schaefer lashed out at ILA President John W. Bowers about labor unrest, prompting Mr. Bowers to walk out of the luncheon. That became the opening salvo in a battle between the state and the ILA that coincided with two strikes in one year and left the port of Baltimore's reputation tainted for its hostile labor environment.
But yesterday, the lame-duck governor delivered what amounted to an apology to the ILA.
"I insulted John Bowers at this meeting," Mr. Schaefer said yesterday at the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan. "And that was a tragic moment for me. Labor's back today, and that means a lot to me."
In fact, management-labor relations in Baltimore have improved significantly during the past two years, starting with work rule changes negotiated during the bitter 1991 contract talks. Just recently, the five port of Baltimore ILA locals, with 1,700 members, ensured further harmony by overwhelmingly approving a two-year contract extension beginning next October.
While the rift between Mr. Schaefer and the ILA has long since eased, the ILA's presence at the state's annual luncheon had been a missing piece in the reconciliation.
"I think it was something Schaefer wanted to clear up before he left office," said James A. McNamara, a spokesman for the ILA, who said the governor's office had personally contacted ILA representatives to encourage them to attend this year's event.
Mr. Bowers, head of the 83,000-member ILA, was out of the country on union business, Mr. McNamara said, as was Richard P. Hughes, president of Local 953, the Baltimore ILA leader most often criticized by the governor during the early 1990s.
Mr. McNamara and Robert Gleason, son of legendary ILA President Teddy Gleason, attended yesterday's luncheon as did Baltimore ILA leaders Edward Burke, Horace Alston and Paul Kursch.
Most of the major shipping lines have their U.S. headquarters in the New York area, and the luncheons have been an annual fixture in the port's promotional efforts for more than three decades. In 1988, Mr. Schaefer began addressing the gathering.
During the 1980s, the port of Baltimore steadily lost business as steamship lines shifted their cargo to other ports. Much of the blame for the port's demise was attributed to poor labor-management relations.
For the past two years, however, the level of cargo has been increasing, and Baltimore has been regaining market share. Since 1991, it has climbed from 12th to the ninth-largest port in the United States.
Yesterday, the governor gave labor much of the credit for the progress.
"I think John Bowers in the last two years has made a tremendous difference in Baltimore working with Richie Hughes," Mr. Schaefer said. "If labor hadn't made adjustments, Baltimore wouldn't have been able to move forward."