Negotiators representing dockworkers and their employers in East Coast ports broke off contract talks a day early yesterday, as the two sides apparently made little progress toward an agreement to replace the contract that expires Nov. 30.
The master contract talks in Tampa, Fla., involve wage rates and work rules governing cargo moved in containers, metal boxes the size of truck trailers that are used to carry the most valuable kinds of goods, from shoes to wine.
The two sides are wrestling with such basic issues as hourly wages, the size of work crews and job jurisdiction issues raised by the increased use of computers.
Maurice C. Byan, head of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., representing Baltimore employers at the bargaining table, said he expects the talks to resume within a month.
"There is no threat of a strike or work stoppages," Mr. Byan said.
Horace Alston, the top official of the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore, declined to comment.
Under the current master contract, most ILA dockworkers earn a base wage of $18 an hour and the gangs that load and unload containerships have a minimum of 20 workers. Management has proposed a $1-an-hour wage increase over three years; the union reportedly wants a $1 raise in each of the next three years. Management hopes to reduce the minimum size of the containership gangs; the union wants them to remain the same.
In the past, the master contract talks treated a much wider range of issues. This year the two sides have agreed to limit the master contract talks to the rules governing container cargo. That means issues involving such things as autos, forest products and other specialized cargo will be resolved by local negotiators in each port.
That change is of special importance for Baltimore. Autos and forest products have been a bright spot in Baltimore in recent years, at a time when its container traffic has been dwindling.
Local negotiators in Baltimore will have the chance for the first time in this round of talks to set their own wage rates for those commodities while the rules for containers remain uniform at all ILA ports.
The local contract in Baltimore also expires Nov. 30.