Contract talks between the International Longshoremen's Association and employers at the Port of Baltimore are scheduled to begin Wednesday, as both sides seek to replace a local pact settled earlier this year after a three-day strike.
This is a break with tradition. In the past, the union first settled its national contract governing ILA ports from Maine to Texas and then sat down with employer groups in each port to hammer out local contracts. The local agreement specifies certain work rules and issues unique to each port.
"I think both sides want to see an agreement favorable to both sides," said Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., an organization representing most of the port's ILA employers.
National contract talks recessed last week with little progress reported on difficult issues.
National talks opened last September with both parties eventually agreeing to extend the contract for more than a year while various committees study specific issues.
Most ports extended their local contracts as well, but the local ILA officials, led by the cargo handlers of Local 333, rejected an extension and pushed for changes in manning rules. The talks collapsed in January but were settled three days later.
In an unusual session Wednesday, national and local union and management leaders met in Linthicum Heights to examine the results of a consultant's study of how the union's jurisdiction over work has changed.
Among those present were: Byan; John Bowers, ILA president; David Tolan, chairman of the New York-based Carriers Container Council, representing ship lines; and Brendan "Bud" O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.
One participant said the issue of jurisdiction is likely to become important in local talks. Automation and computerization have cut deeply into the jobs of many longshoremen, and each union local raised at the meeting some issues related to its work.
"Bowers wants the ILA's territory staked out simple and clear," said the participant.
Byan said the meeting provided both sides with the opportunity to raise questions and suggestions about the study.
The current local and national contracts expire at midnight Nov. 30. Another negotiating session on the national pact is scheduled for Oct. 29, though Byan said there has been some talk of an earlier meeting date.
The latest round of national contract talks fizzled out last week in Tampa, Fla., with both sides' hard-line stances unwavering on the important issues of wages, gang sizes and contributions to union benefit plans.
Anthony Tozzoli, president of the New York Shipping Association and one of the lead management negotiators, said the differences can be resolved, but he conceded that the parties are far apart.
Bowers said in Tampa that his foremost priority is getting a contract that will preserve union jobs.
That's diametrically opposed to management's position that it needs to reduce gang sizes, as well as promote greater work rule flexibility, in order to survive.
Management's only sweetening on the job preservation issue was an offer to pay for the retraining of employees who lose their jobs to automation.
That doesn't leave much middle ground on which to reach accord.
Although little time remains before the contract's expiration, Tozzoli said he believes the deadline can be beaten.
One factor in favor of that is that the talks have been less rancorous overall than those in 1986, when the ILA was forced to make concessions for the first time.
The contract talks now under way involve only the Carriers Container Council, the New York Shipping Association, the Boston Shipping Association, the Council of North Atlantic Shipping Associations and the Southeast Florida Employers Association.