After the first day of talks on a new Baltimore longshoremen's contract, the leader of the port's largest union local said both sides were determined to avoid another strike.
"None of us want to repeat what happened a year ago. We want to get a contract and get to work again," said Edward Burke, president of Local 333 of the International Longshoremen's Association.
Four of the five ILA locals in the port were represented at yesterday's meetings. Absent were officials of Local 953, which represents the port's clerks and checkers.
The chief management negotiator, Maurice C. Byan, characterized the three hours of talks in East Baltimore as "meaningful discussions." He said there was no formal exchange of proposals and that no date had been set for resuming the talks.
Richard P. Hughes Jr., head of the clerks and checkers of Local 953, said in March that he intended to negotiate independently of the other locals and to hold a separate ratification vote. In the past, local contract proposals have been submitted to dockworkers in a single, portwide ratification ballot.
The current local contract, adopted in late January after a three-day strike, forced deep cuts in the jobs filled by checkers. With about 430 members, Local 953 represents about a fifth of the port's ILA members.
The contract was approved by a large majority of the port's dockworkers, even though the checkers voted almost unanimously against it. It was to prevent a similar outcome that Local 953 decided to hold its own vote this time around.
Management protested that tactic to the National Labor Relations Board. In July, the NLRB's Baltimore office upheld Local 953's right to hold a separate election. Management has appealed to the agency's national office, and a ruling is pending.
Mr. Byan refused to comment on Mr. Hughes' absence from the bargaining table yesterday. Mr. Hughes was unavailable for comment.
During the talks yesterday, both sides agreed not to make public details of the discussions. "I've got a gag on everyone," ILA Vice President Horace Alston said.
Mr. Byan did confirm however that he expected the guaranteed-annual-income program, a kind of unemployment benefit, to be one of the main issues in the talks.
The union is expected to resist strenuously efforts to reduce or eliminate the GAI program. "As far as we're concerned, GAI is a non-issue," said Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, vice president of Local 333. "That doesn't mean we won't talk about anything."