Dockworker union officials reject 'final' contract offer

November 28, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr.

Leaders of the dockworkers union in the port of Baltimore rejected management's "final" contract offer yesterday, Maurice C. Byan, the head negotiator for waterfront management said yesterday, increasing the possibility of strike when the current local contract expires at midnight Friday.

Officials of the International Longshoremen's Association notified him yesterday that they did not intend to submit the offer to their members for a ratification vote, Mr. Byan said. "We're still hoping they'll reconsider our offer," he said.

Edward Burke, president of Local 333, the largest in the port, said last night that union leaders had voted "not to accept" the offer but that the union had "decided to keep talking."

Mr. Byan replied, "We'll be glad to talk to them any time," but he insisted that what management had presented was "a final offer."

No time has been set for the resumption of talks with Mr. Burke and three other smaller ILA locals that have been negotiating as a group with management.

The rejection of the "final" offer puts the two sides at loggerheads with less than three days remaining before the expiration of the contract.

"The ball's in their court now," one union source said of management. This union member, who asked not to be identified, described the management proposal as "take, take, take."

"They didn't give us anything we asked for," he said.

Officials of the Maryland Port Administration refused to comment onthe cargo handlers. It was the offer to the remaining four locals that was rejected yesterday.

Talks with Local 953, led by Richard P. Hughes Jr., were continuing last night. Mr. Byan said the talks with the clerks remained on track and that "there's a positive tone on both sides."

Management was pressing Mr. Burke and the heads of the three smaller locals to accept tighter rules governing the port's guaranteed-annual-income program, which provides benefits to underemployed and unemployed longshoremen.

The GAI fund is financed with a $2.75 charge for each hour an ILA member is employed on the docks. Consequently, less work for longshoremen has also meant less money for the fund, at the the same time the demand for benefits was rising.

The GAI fund is operating at a deficit, and management is facing a big increase in the GAI assessment unless its cost can be reduced.

Such an increase would worsen the port's competitive position in regard to its chief competitor, Hampton Road, Va.

The Virginia ports have a GAI program, but since the longshoremen are fully employed, their GAI costs are minimal.

The union argues that it would be wrong to reduce drastically the GAI program at a time when longshoremen in Baltimore need it more than ever because of the lack of work in the port.

Management's offer submitted to the four locals yesterday would have required a longshoreman to have worked at least 300 hours in two of the last three years to maintain eligibility for the GAI program.

Currently, longshoremen must have worked at least 700 hours in 1982 or 1983.

Under the current rules, a longshoreman can collect up to $28,800 in benefits annually, even though he may have not worked on the piers since 1983.

The management proposal would have meant that only people who had put in a significant number of hours in the last two years could continue to collect. According to one estimate, the 300-hour restriction would have cut about 140 longshoremen from the GAI rolls.

Last month, negotiators from all of the ILA ports on the East and Gulf coasts agreed on a master contract that would raise the basic hourly wage of $18 by $1 in each of the four years of the agreement. That master contract cuts the 20-member crews by one person in the first year and a second in the third year.

Union leaders in Baltimore were hoping to avoid those cuts by agreeing to other changes sought by management, including more flexible work hours for terminal and ship-loading operations.

Management's offer yesterday, however, called for the more flexible hours while preserving the gang cuts.

The refusal of management to keep the gang sizes at current levels was a blow to Mr. Burke of Local 333. The GAI restrictions would have been painful for his local, but they would have hit the other three smaller locals even harder. Perhaps 40 of the 50 members of Local 1355, known as the carpenters, depend on GAI, while virtually all of the 48 grain handlers of Local 921 collect GAI, according to another union source.

The management proposal effectively would have destroyed those locals, the source said. "They [management] want the union leaders to wipe themselves out," he said. "They can go whistle Dixie on this one. These guys could never accept it."

The decision not to submit the offer to the membership was made yesterday afternoon by the ILA's Baltimore District Council, comprising the leaders of each of the five locals in the port.

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