Dockworkers at the Port of Baltimore were scheduled to vote today on a new contract proposal amid uncertainty about the fate of one of their union locals.
Bargainers for Local 953 of the International Longshoremen's Association still were meeting this morning with negotiators for management, represented by the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc.
The two sides had bargained through the night without reaching a conclusion. Meanwhile, the cargo clerks of Local 953 are working under an extension of their previous contract, which expired at midnight Friday, said Richard P. Hughes, business agent for Local 953.
Hughes, unhappy with the concessions his members were forced to take in the contract talks ending last January, chose to bargain independently of the port's other four ILA locals this time around.
Those other locals bargained as they traditionally have, as the Baltimore District Council of the ILA. They reached a tentative settlement early Friday.
The members of Locals 333, 921, 1355 and 1429, representing the vast majority of the port's 2,000 ILA members, were voting today on a ratification of the contract. Most observers expect the pact to pass, especially because of the support it has of Local 333, the largest local at the port with about 1,250 members.
"It's been one of the best contracts we've had in the last 10 years," said Jim Denney, a 17-year veteran of Local 333.
Denney attended a membership meeting Friday to learn about the contract. The pact calls for a midnight shift of workers when ships arrive late at night, tightens the eligibility for a job-security plan called "Guaranteed Annual Income," and reduces from two to one the number of workers that will be cut from the standard crews under terms of the national ILA contract.
"For once we're getting a pretty good deal," Denney said. "I definitely will be giving it a big 'yea.' I think it will pass."
The vote was scheduled to run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. If ratified, the terms of the contract will become retroactive to Saturday. That includes the pay raises contained in the national contract, ratified in a separate vote two weeks ago.
Unclear is what will happen if the talks with Hughes' local break down. Many sources in management and labor believe that the other ILA locals would be prohibited by labor law from honoring Local 953's picket lines.