Richard P. Hughes Jr., a port labor leader recalled as a "feared negotiator" who rose to become president of the International Longshoremen's Association, died of heart and lung disease Sept. 11 at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Locust Point resident was 79.
"Richie Hughes had four loves — his family, the union, its membership and the Port of Baltimore," said Helen Delich Bentley, a former member of Congress and past chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission.
During his lengthy career, he represented 65,000 seaport workers from Maine to Texas.
"The port needed his strong, direct hand in guiding the labor situation on the Baltimore waterfront," said Mrs. Bentley, who recalled that she had known him and other members of his family for more than six decades.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Richard P. Hughes, who was also a cargo freight checker, and Nora T. Hughes, a homemaker. Members of the extended Hughes family were influential labor leaders along Baltimore's waterfront. They lived in Locust Point for generations.
His uncle, Mickey Hughes, was featured in a 1950 Saturday Evening Post article that detailed his career as a cargo checker. He had been president of Baltimore ILA local at times from 1920 through the 1940s.
Richard Hughes served in the Navy from 1953 to 1955 and was assigned to the USS Juneau for 18 months. He joined ILA Local 1953 in 1957. Over the next 50 years he would hold numerous union-elected offices.
"Mr. Hughes came from a rich tradition of longshoremen and was a third-generation ILA member," said a statement issued by the union. "He went to work on the Baltimore docks as a young man in 1954, first joining ILA Local 1429. The Hughes family had emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s, first settling in Western Pennsylvania, where Richard Hughes' grandfather, Martin Patrick Hughes, worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines. The Hughes family moved to Baltimore, where Martin Hughes joined the newly formed ILA in the late 1890s working as a coal trimmer."
The biography supplied by the union said that before his election as national ILA president in 2007, he was executive vice president of the ILA and secretary-treasurer of the ILA's Atlantic Coast District. Mr. Hughes became the ILA's executive vice president in 2005. He had previously been general vice president of the Atlantic Coast District from 1989 to 2000.
"He always had the best interests of the rank and file at heart. He treated them like family members," said James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. "He learned the business from the bottom up, long before there were computers. A lot of us have been able to take an easier road because of Richie Hughes. He was unusual in that he was not from the Port of New York and yet became president of the ILA. That job was quite a responsibility."
Mr. White recalled Mr. Hughes as a "feared negotiator" who was "immensely respected for his skills."
He also recalled periods of tense negotiations. "When things were at an impasse, that Irish wit of his came out and labor and management kept talking. They stayed at the table. He was just a great man."
Mr. Hughes was named ILA president emeritus at a 2011 union convention. He led a union of 65,000 workers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada.
Mr. Hughes was elected vice president on the Atlantic Coast Executive Board in 1985 representing the Port of Baltimore. He was re-elected to that post four times, including his elevation in 1989 to ACD general vice president.
"The International Longshoremen's Association is deeply saddened by the passing our President Richard P. Hughes, Jr., who served our ILA membership with distinction and honor for more than half a century," said current ILA President Harold J. Daggett. "Rich Hughes' accomplishments throughout his long career with the ILA were vast and his memory will endure."
The ILA president also served as a vice president on the executive council of the AFL-CIO, where he was a member of the federation's International Affairs and Legislative and Public Policy committees. He also served on the executive councils of both the AFL-CIO's Maritime Trades Department and Transportation Trades Department. Mr. Hughes was also an executive officer with the Dockers Section of the worldwide labor organization, the International Transport Workers Federation.
He was also chairman of the Port of Baltimore's Private Sector Committee, which included leaders of Baltimore's maritime community.
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He often battled state officials and once locked horns with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
"If the state is serious about making the port competitive, the ILA stands ready to join in the effort as a free trade union, but not as a scapegoat," he wrote in a 1989 Evening Sun essay.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church, Fort Avenue and Towson Street, where he was a member.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, the former Wilma Anna "Babe" Jackson; three sons, Richard P. Hughes III of Baltimore, Brian Hughes of Ellicott City and Timothy Hughes of Pasadena; two daughters, Karen Rupinski and Kathleen Hughes, both of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.