Negotiations were set to resume today for a contract governing longshoremen at the Port of Baltimore, raising hopes that a strike can be averted before tomorrow night's midnight deadline.
Port employers, represented by the Steamship Trade Association, and the Baltimore District Council of the International Longshoremen's Association agreed this morning to meet.
The two sides have not met formally in negotiations since Tuesday when management issued what it called its "best and final" offer. The District Council, bargaining for four of the port's five ILA locals, rejected the offer.
Last night, members of ILA Local 333, the port's largest, backed their leadership in an informal vote against the contract.
This morning the trade association met with leaders of ILA Local 953, which is bargaining apart from the other locals this year.
Richard P. Hughes Jr., business agent of that local and general vice president of the ILA's Atlantic Coast District, said afterward, "Hope springs eternal."
Asked about the resumption of talks, Horace Alston, ILA vice president for Baltimore, said, "I'm always encouraged."
Meanwhile, labor and management at the Port of New York have reached a tentative agreement, the second of Baltimore's biggest competitors to come to terms. Hampton Roads, Va., also has an agreement.
In Baltimore, employers and the International Longshoremen's Association are working to avoid becoming the only major port in the nation to be hit twice by strikes this year.
Several hundred of the 1,250 members of ILA Local 333 turned out for a hastily arranged meeting last night, and voted nearly unanimously against the pact in a non-binding straw vote.
The Baltimore District Council, representing four of the port's five locals, voted on Tuesday and again yesterday not to submit the contract to an official ratification vote.
In it's offer Tuesday, the trade association called for raises for some small categories of workers, midnight work shifts with premium pay, and flexible work schedules to keep marine terminals open longer.
It also called for cuts in the eligibility for a job-security program called the Guaranteed Annual Income, a benefit that pays long-time members when there is insufficient work for them. Management's plan would have limited eligibility to workers who had worked a minimum of 300 hours in two of the past three years.
The measure would drop 150 to 300 of the 600 workers now receiving GAI, according to various estimates. Under the plan, the most senior ILA members are guaranteed work or pay subsidies totaling $28,800 a year. There are about 2,500 ILA members at the port.
"They can't take everything and give nothing," said Steve Acton, a member of the local who voted against the offer.
Acton supports the third shift plan, which calls for six hours of 1 1/2 pay and two hours of double pay for each seven-hour shift. He would not mind seeing some cuts in GAI eligibility either, but wants something in return, he said.
Another member, who asked not to be identified, acknowledged there is some "dead wood" of members drawing GAI benefits without seeking work. But the cuts proposed by management would affect those who are working but need supplemental income to make up for the decline of business at the port.
"Management hasn't given anything in return for what they've taken," the member said.
In New York, bargainers at the largest ILA port reached agreement about 7:30 last night for a local pact governing about 4,100 active members. Details were not released, but sources said it included retirement incentives to drive down the cost of GAI. The pact will go into effect Saturday even though members won't vote on the pact until later in December.
Workers will vote tomorrow on the tentative agreement at Hampton Roads.
Management and labor in Philadelphia is still said to be far apart.
All 36 ILA ports from Maine to Texas must negotiate new local agreements, specifying work rules and issues that differ between ports, to supplement the national contract ratified last week. The national contract expires Sept. 30, 1994, and calls for $1-a-year wage increases that would leave standard longshoremen earning $22 an hour by the end of the contract.
However, the association was scheduled to meet today with Local 953. That local, representing cargo clerks, bore the brunt of the bitter negotiations that ended in January after a three-day strike and chose to negotiate apart from the other locals for the first time this year.
Management was braced for a difficult struggle, but so far several sources have said the talks seem to be progressing well. Management has refrained some seeking stiffer concessions than it won in January, and the union has shown a willingness not to try to recoup all it lost, several sources said. The primary issues with the clerks revolve around clarifications of jurisdiction.