Baltimore port talks begin today Guaranteed annual income 'hot topic

September 26, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr

When negotiations begin today on a new local contract for dockworkers in Baltimore, representatives of management are expected to propose a plan to reduce or phase out the guaranteed annual income program for longshoremen that costs port employers about $9 million a year.

The GAI, a kind of unemployment insurance program, is funded by a $2.75 assessment paid by employers on each hour worked by a member of the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore. About 2,000 longshoremen in the port are eligible for GAI and approximately 400 currently collect GAI benefits.

Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, in a briefing for state legisSee PORT, C7, Col. 4PORT, from 1Clators at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, said yesterday the GAI issue will be "a very hot topic" in the Baltimore negotiations.

"I believe our bargaining representatives will attempt to reduce it," Mr. O'Malley told members of the Senate Budget and Taxation subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the port.

Michael P. Angelos, general manager of the state subsidiary thamanages Seagirt, said waterfront employers hope to be able to phase out the GAI program over two years through a buyout program.

Such a program could involve cash payments to longshoremein return for early retirement. A reduction in the size of the work force would, in theory, reduce the number of idle longshoremen and reduce the need to make GAI payments.

The demand for ILA labor in the port today is less than half what it was a decade ago. In 1980 ILA members logged almost 6 million hours. Last year the figure was well below 3 million. The decline came about because of technological advances in cargo handling that reduced the need for labor, combined with a real decline in port traffic.

The cost of the program has long been a major concern for management in the port, especially since Baltimore's principal competitor, the ports of Hampton Roads, Va., does not play GAI benefits. (Hampton Roads does have a GAI program, but since the booming ports there do not have an unemployment problem, no benefits have to be paid.)

Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, the vice president of ILA Local 333, said yesterday he had not heard of management's plans to make a buyout offer on GAI. A buyout was mentioned briefly during the negotiations last fall that led to the 14 month contract that expires Nov. 30, but he said, "There was no real discussion" of the buyout idea then.

Mr. McKenzie said he was not at liberty to discuss details of the negotiations that begin today but that he did expect GAI to be an issue.

David L. Bindler, chairman of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., which represents management in the talks, also declined to say what issues are to be discussed. (Mr. Bindler is also regional director for Maersk Line, which handles more cargo in Baltimore than any other steamship line.)

Because the MPA does not employ members of the ILA, it will not be represented directly at the contract negotiations. But the state will have a say because of its new role at Seagirt. Maryland International Terminals, a state subsidiary, operates Seagirt using ITO Corp. of Baltimore Inc., a private stevedoring company, as its agent.

ITO, the largest stevedoring company in the port, will be one of the principal members of the management bargaining team. Because of the relationship between ITO and MIT, the state should be able to exert a direct influence on management's bargaining position during the negotiations.

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