Management and labor negotiators hope to reconvene talks next week aimed at reaching a new contract governing 3,000 dockworkers at the Port of Baltimore.
National talks have been under way for months with little progress. Negotiations over the supplemental, local contract began in Baltimore yesterday. Both sides said they hope a settlement can be reached peacefully before the Nov. 30 deadline.
"None of us want to repeat what happened a year ago. We want to get in, get a contract and get to work," said Edward Burke, president of Local 333 of the International Longshoremen's Association.
His local, representing cargo handlers, was instrumental last fall in rejecting a proposal from management to extend the contract. The negotiations continued for months and were not settled until after a three-day strike in January.
Local 953, representing cargo clerks, has vowed to bargain independently of the other ILA locals at the port. It was the only local not represented in yesterday's session. Leaders of that local were unavailable for comment.
The STA has appealed to the National Labor Relations Board seeking to force the ILA locals to negotiate on a port-wide basis as they traditionally have done.
Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, representing waterfront employers, described yesterday's talks as "positive."
"It was a meaningful discussion of issues," Byan said. He said both sides addressed jurisdictional issues related to a consultants' study conducted in all ILA ports. Contract matters were also considered in separate sessions, although no proposals were exchanged, he said.
Among the chief disputes expected to arise in the negotiations is the future of the Guaranteed Annual Income program. The program provides pay for eligible longshoremen when there is not enough work. The union won the benefit in exchange for accepting automation years ago. Management says the plan has become too costly.
"As far as the ILA is concerned, the GAI is a non-issue. We're willing to talk about anything, but the GAI is a non-issue," said Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, vice president of ILA Local 333, vowing to maintain the program.
Meanwhile, the national labor talks are set to resume in Florida on Oct. 21, sooner than the previously scheduled date of Oct. 29. Many had feared the later date would leave too little time before the contract expires.