Barry Ruskin, a longshoreman for three years, nearly smiled early this morning when he learned that dockworkers had reached a tentative agreement with the management of the Port of Baltimore.
When told at the dispatch center of the International Longshoremen's Association today that post-midnight bargaining sessions had produced a contract for ILA members to vote on Monday for ratification, Ruskin remained composed.
"The happiness is being saved for when the word 'tentative' comes out of all of the contract talk. Then there'll be smiles and high fives and jokes all around," said Ruskin, 42.
Ruskin was among several hundred somewhat nervous dockworkers who gathered at the ILA dispatch center in East Baltimore today to get their daily assignments for dock work. There, many of the workers learned of the tentative pact which averted a midnight strike.
Both sides agreed to extend the current contract until a vote is taken.
Some union officials feel the new pact will be ratified. However, many workers are wary of the proposed contract.
"This is not one of those 'happy days are here again' times because most of us don't really know what the new contract is all about," said longshoreman Clemen Johnson, 35, of West Baltimore.
"Some of these contracts that are put together at the last moment are a bunch of bull because they think we'll take anything during the 11th hour. But that's not always the case. Let's just keep ourselves reserved until the meeting."
Port officials said the new contract, which affects about 2,000 dockworkers, contains changes that could help Baltimore's port regain business lost in recent months.
The proposed contract provides terminals to remain open longer, flexible work scheduling, new restrictions on a job security plan and adds a worker to standard work crews.
Ed Cade, of West Baltimore and a longshoreman for nine years, said he likes many of the proposals the new contract offers.
"The additional worker sounds good to me and everybody else. So do the flexible hours," Cade said. "I've got to read more about them messing with the job security system."
Cade also said he has been through tough negotiations and the threat of strike before.
"No one knows what's going to happen when the vote is taken, but, let's put it this, no one wants to strike ever and especially not when Christmas is only days away," Cade said.
"I think everyone will agree on the new deal. I probably will."