The major association of employers at the Port of Baltimore, a once-influential group that appeared on the verge of collapse 10 months ago, is enjoying a resurgence as it enters the final days of contract talks with dockworkers.
Earlier this year, the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. was at a low point. The group, which represents employers in dealings with the International Longshoremen's Association, suffered through a three-day strike in January that drew new attention to the port's labor-management troubles. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislators were openly critical of the group's policies and leadership, accusing it of not being tough enough in bargaining.
By March, a number of key members had resigned or announced their intention to quit, including three of the group's nine directors and its chairman. Then its long-time president, William J. Detweiler, resigned.
Those events threatened to weaken the group in an important contract year.
The current ILA agreement expires on Nov. 30, and the union's international had encouraged its representatives in each port to have local agreements completed by today so they could be voted on as a package with the national contract.
But bargainers at Baltimore are still without agreement, and one source estimated the talks could extend into the holiday weekend. Today's ILA membership vote will concern only the national contract and is expected to win easy ratification.
Over the past few weeks and months, a number of new trade association members have joined and some old ones who had threatened to quit or had quit have changed their minds. Among those rejoining or deciding to stay: Cataneo Line Services, headed by Michael P. Cataneo, the former chairman of the association; Tartan Terminals, and Puerto Rican Marine Management.
New to the group is All Marine Moorings Inc., a line handling company new to the port, and two ship lines, Nosac and Mediterranean Shipping Co. Nosac recently moved its North American headquarters to Baltimore from Atlanta. Also joining was Universal Maritime Service Corp., a cargo handling firm that took over the operations of a previous association member, Maersk Container Services.
The reasons for the decisions vary. Tartan officials said they were primarily concerned about the legal complexities of employing ILA members and paying into ILA-STA funds without being a member. Mediterranean Shipping, the charter tenant at Seagirt Marine Terminal when it opened in September, likes the changes within the association.
"We've been repairing the image of the STA. The trade (association) is an important part of the port, but I emphasize, it is only a part," said Maurice Byan, acting president of the association. A long-time activist within the group, Byan said the recent troubles were a low point in the association's history.
Membership now stands at 33, and others are talking about joining, said Byan, who was head of Clark-Maryland, a cargo nTC handling firm at the port that got out of that business last year. Though he is still an interim president, many observers think he has a good chance of winning the job permanently.