State official sees hope for better times at port

November 15, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr.

The port of Baltimore is poised for success, state Port Commissioner J. Owen Cole said yesterday, while warning of the critical impact current labor negotiations will have on the port's prospects.

Mr. Cole, the retired chairman of First National Bank of Maryland, spoke at a luncheon honoring him as port leader of the year. Mr. Cole has been a member of the Maryland Port Commission since its creation two years ago as the policy-making board of directors of the Maryland Port Administration.

Mr. Cole, a self-effacing man, is credited with working diligently behind the scenes to put in place elements considered keys to the future success of the port.

The two years Mr. Cole has spent on the commission have been difficult for the port, as Baltimore has witnessed a steady loss of its business to ports to the south, especially the ports of Hampton Roads, Va.

That troubled period could be coming to an end, he suggested. "We have some things to sell we didn't have before," he said.

He cited the deepening of the shipping channels to 50 feet and the opening of Seagirt Marine Terminal, which he called the "premier facility in the entire country."

For the first time in years, he said, the port is in a position to brag about its labor climate. "We do have a unified port, the best labor-management climate that's been around," he said.

Representatives of waterfront management and the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore are trying to reach agreement on a contract to replace the one that will expire at the end of the month.

"That discussion is so very critical," Mr. Cole said, while noting his conviction that labor realizes the importance of the talks for the success of the port.

Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the MPA, who sat next to Mr. Cole at the ceremony sponsored by the Baltimore Junior Association of Commerce, seconded Mr. Cole's views on the importance of the contract talks.

"1991 will be a very good year for us," Mr. O'Malley said. "A new image of Baltimore is being transferred around the world, providing we keep a lid on our labor."

Mr. O'Malley said he, too, thinks port labor leaders clearly understand the importance of a united front.

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