Richie Hughes' Strike

December 04, 1990

Once again, longshoremen clerks' leader Richard P. Hughes Jr. has precipitated a strike at Baltimore's port. This one poses enormous dangers for the regional and Maryland economies -- and for the majority of longshoremen in other union locals that disagree with Mr. Hughes' action.

State officials called Mr. Hughes' decision a pre-meditated move to win back for his clerks local No. 953 the jobs lost in the last round of talks. The fact that this could prompt a diversion of cargo to other ports, and the loss of countless jobs for dockworkers here, doesn't seem to have entered into his equation. It is a tragic situation.

It is also, as Gov. William Donald Schaefer put it, "outrageous." The outdated militant unionism espoused by one local leader has paralyzed the port. It is the primary reason Baltimore's longshoremen face a dismal future.

Until Richie Hughes' strike, a new, cooperative spirit between labor leaders, management and the state had taken root. Many sticky problems had been overcome; ultra-modern facilities had opened, and longshoremen were eagerly discussing flexible work rules and cost-saving steps to entice steamship lines into the Port of Baltimore.

Now, all that hard work -- and hundreds of millions of dollars invested by the state -- is imperiled. For dockworkers, Mr. Hughes is giving them the worst Christmas present of all: a senseless strike that jeopardizes their jobs at a time when jobs are hard to come by.

It will be up to other labor leaders to persuade Mr. Hughes that he has gone too far. For years, he has controlled longshoremen actions, though his small clerks local is far outnumbered by the four other locals. This one-man rule must end.

Mr. Hughes doesn't comprehend the new economic reality: the only way longshoremen can gain prosperity is by luring more cargo through reduced labor costs and flexible work rules. Norfolk's cooperative longshoremen recognize that fact. Their cargo business was up 130 percent in the past decade; Baltimore's sank 21 percent.

This devastating and unnecessary strike could have long-range, negative ramifications. It has to be terminated rapidly. Only Mr. Hughes' fellow longshoremen can do that. The fate of the Port of Baltimore rests in their hands.

This devastating and unnecessary strike could have long-range, negative ramifications. It has to be terminated rapidly. Only Mr. Hughes' fellow longshoremen can do that. The fate of the Port of Baltimore rests in their hands.

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