Dockworkers and waterfront management at the Port of Baltimore today reached a tentative contract agreement, averting a threatened midnight strike.
Port officials said the pact contains significant changes that could help the ailing port regain lost business.
The Baltimore District Council of the International Longshoremen's Association scheduled a meeting this evening to present the proposed settlement to the membership. A ratification vote is to be held Monday.
The two sides agreed to extend the current contract, affecting about 2,000 dockworkers, until the vote.
Several union officials predicted passage of the contract.
"It's the basis for getting us into the 1990s," said Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., representing waterfront management in the talks.
The proposed contract, to last for three years and 10 months, calls for new restrictions on a controversial and expensive job-security plan and adds a worker to the standard work crews. It also provides for flexible work scheduling to allow terminals to stay open longer and for a midnight shift to load and unload ships arriving late at night -- items management considered vital to Baltimore's future.
The agreement was reached shortly before 4 a.m., after a marathon series of meetings spanning nine hours.
Ship lines have been watching the talks closely, but no large scale diversion of cargo has occurred.
Mediterranean Shipping Co. said it would divert some cargo to Hampton Roads, Va., where dockworkers are voting today on a tentative agreement reached earlier this week. No estimate of the cargo lost was immediately available. Wallenius Lines, a car carrier, yesterday shipped some cars out a day earlier than scheduled when the Atlantic Container Line vessel they were supposed to go out on was delayed until next week, said Bjorn Gundersen, general manager of operations for ACL.
"I guess they were getting a little nervous," Gundersen said. He said his line had not begun diverting any cargo but would have in the event of a strike.
Locals 333, 921 and 1355 are expected to favor the pact, sources said. A fourth local bargaining as part of the District Council stormed out of the talks but returned to the table this morning. Officials of Local 1429, which represents various craftsmen, reached a settlement by midday after nearly two hours of negotiations.
ILA Local 953, the only one of the port's five dockworker locals not bargaining as part of the district council, did not participate last night. Talks were to resume with that local today. "It's still on a positive track," Byan said of the talks with Local 953, which represents cargo clerks.
It was not clear what a disagreement with the clerks would mean. Some observers speculated that members of the other locals may be forced by labor law to ignore picket lines that might be put up by the clerks. If, as the clerks insist, they are bargaining a separate contract, then members of the other locals could be accused of engaging in an illegal "secondary boycott" by participating in a protest unrelated to their own contract.
The trade association opposed Local 953's decision to bargain independently, but the National Labor Relations Board sided with the local. The decision is being appealed, but both sides agreed to conduct separate talks with the understanding that the pact could be consolidated if management wins the case.
All the negotiations with the dockworkers concern only local "riders" to a national contract ratified last week. That contract expires on Sept. 30, 1994, and provides $1-an-hour raises each year. It will raise the standard longshoreman's hourly wage from the current $18 to $22 by late 1993.
Local agreements specify work rules and issues that differ between ports. The current local pact, which would have expired at midnight tonight, was settled in January after a three-day strike that weakened the port's already poor labor-management reputation. The duration was 10 months to coincide with the national pact.
The district council agreement reached today differs in two important ways from a "final offer" rejected by the union on Tuesday.
First, it softens the cuts management was seeking from the guaranteed annual income, or GAI, plan. That benefit, part of contracts going back two decades, pays longtime ILA members when there is insufficient work for them.
A steep drop in work at the port over the past decade had led to increased demand for GAI payments, amounting to millions of dollars a year that had to be funded through special charges that drove up the cost of using the port.
To qualify for payments, a worker must have logged at least 700 hours in the 1982 and 1983 contract year. Management's proposal on Tuesday would have added a further requirement that members have worked at least 300 hours in two out of the past three years.