NEW YORK -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer told some of the port of Baltimore's most important customers yesterday that he is now more confident of the port's ability to satisfy their needs.
In his annual address to the maritime industry in New York, where many shipping lines have their U.S. headquarters, the governor said the port can offer its users a new, highly efficient marine terminal and a new spirit of cooperation from labor.
"Everything I see in Seagirt tells me it's a marvelous facility," he said of the $250 million, state-owned marine terminal that opened Sept 4.
Last year the governor used this same forum to express his displeasure with the state of labor relations in the port, and yesterday he reminded his listeners that he had been "frustrated as could be" over the labor issue.
But he went on to say yesterday that the leaders of the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore have exhibited an understanding of the port's plight.
"We're in tough negotiations right now," he said of the talks on the local and master ILA contracts, both of which expire Nov 30.
Following his speech he said, "I'm pleased with the way the labor negotiations have been going."
Once the contracts have been settled, he said, "stability will return. I'm not as pessimistic as I was last year."
ILA officials did not attend the luncheon at the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhattan.
The governor said he was not bothered by their absence. Both Horace Alston and Richard P. Hughes Jr., the two ranking ILA officials in Baltimore, appreciate the port's precarious competitive position, Mr. Schaefer said, noting that Mr. Alston recently accompanied the governor on a trade mission to the Far East to help promote the port.
A year ago, Mr. Hughes was the target of sharp criticism from the governor for what Mr. Schaefer viewed as the union leader's unwillingness to compromise for the good of the port.
Yesterday the governor said of Mr. Hughes, "At least he understands the port isn't standing alone. We've got some competition. . . . Baltimore is in deadly competition with ports to the south."
Asked whether he was confident that the current local negotiations will be successfully completed without a repeat of January's three-day strike, the governor replied, "Reasonably, reasonably."
Last winter Mr. Schaefer was deeply involved in the ILA negotiations, repeatedly criticizing Mr. Hughes and putting heavy pressure on management to take a tough stance in the negotiations.
The contract that resulted forced deep cuts in the ranks of the clerks and checkers of ILA Local 953, which is led by Mr. Hughes.
This time around, the governor has not injected himself so directly in the negotiations, but he said he would not hesitate to do so.
"If I'm needed, doggone right I will," he said.