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ILA rejects trade group buyout plan


Leaders of Baltimore's Longshoremen's union have rejected an offer by the Steamship Trade Association for an $18 million buyout of the program that pays Longshoremen when they are not working.

The Baltimore District Council of the International Longshoremen's Association voted unanimously late last week to reject the offer to pay each member of the 1,800-member association $10,000 in exchange for eliminating the Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) fund by March 1994.

"We didn't think it was sufficient," said Richard P. Hughes Jr., head of Local 953, which represents the 400 checkers and clerks who handle the port's paperwork.

The GAI program, instituted 20 years ago, is intended to compensate eligible workers for wages lost because of automation. Payments from the fund ensure that each eligible worker will make $30,000 a year, about half of what a dockworker with top seniority could earn by working full time.

About 500 Longshoremen at the port of Baltimore are receiving GAI benefits, which costs employers roughly $12 million a year.

The plan -- financed through a $4-per-manhour assessment on steamship and stevedore companies -- has been criticized as a factor that makes the port of Baltimore less competitive.

Similar wage subsidy programs have been phased out at most Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports.

The buyout deal would have required the ILA and the steamship association to reopen local contract negotiations just six months after the ILA had voted overwhelmingly to extend its pact for two years, to October 1996. The GAI payment was left intact under that extension.

The district council, which is composed of Mr. Hughes and the four other local presidents, voted unanimously against the buyout proposal after it was presented by Maurice Byan, president of the trade association, on Thursday.

Historically, ILA membership votes only on proposals brought to it by its leaders, so it seems unlikely that memberswill have an opportunity to vote.

"We hope to have further discussions with the leadership," said Mr. Byan, whose association represents more than three dozen steamship lines, terminal operators and stevedores.

"Our offer is still on the table until Feb. 28," he said. "It's a problem we feel we have to solve now."

The steamship association had been prepared to finance the buyout with an $18 million loan from Maryland National Bank.

Earlier this month, Mr. Hughes held out the possibility of some movement on the payments, saying some of the fund might be used to subsidize efforts to bring more work to the port of Baltimore.

He said yesterday that the ILA would take no further action on the buyout proposal.

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