ILA strike ends port chief assails pact Clerks expected to return to their jobs today

December 05, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr. James Bock of The Sun's Metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

The strike by clerical dockworkers in Baltimore ended last night, but the director of the Maryland Port Administration sharply criticized the settlement as a threat to the ability of the port to compete.

The 430 clerks are expected to return to work this morning, and the port should resume normal operations. Still, Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the MPA, panned the new contract, saying it granted too many new jobs to the clerks, who handle the paperwork for loading and unloading cargo.

"We are not very happy about the result here," said Mr. O'Malley"because of our apprehension the settlement may affect our competitiveness."

"I thought they could have done better," Mr. O'Malley said of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc., which represents waterfront employers in Baltimore.

The clerks, members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 953, walked out Monday after failing to reach agreement with management over pension, health benefits and job security issues.

Few details of the new 46-month agreement worked out by the STA with Richard P. Hughes Jr., the leader of Local 953 of the International Longshoremen's Association, were released.

But Mr. O'Malley said the contract gave Mr. Hughes "a significant number of additional jobs." He declined to reveal the exact number.

Maurice C. Byan, the chief negotiator for managementdisagreed with Mr. O'Malley's assessment, saying, "I don't see it that way."

The settlement involved the jurisdictional issue involvincomputers, Mr. Byan said. "The issue today was solely computers, and it did not add any jobs," he said.

The clerks will get some additional jobs under their new contractMr. Byan said, but that work had been agreed to earlier, not additions that Mr. Hughes pressured management into giving yesterday, Mr. Byan said.

The new contract will give Local 953 additional checkers but nothing close to the approximately 65 clerical jobs cut in negotiations last year, Mr. Byan said.

Local 953 officials maintained they had won all they sought on computer jurisdiction and fringe benefits.

Management representatives met for nearly eight hours trying to work out a compromise acceptable to Mr. Hughes. Just before 5 p.m., Mr. Byan emerged from the meeting room and made a thumbs-up gesture indicating success.

Mr. Byan said the agreement entailed assurances to the clerks that nothing in the local agreement would lessen their rights or jurisdiction under the master contract, which applies to all ILA ports.

"That one little sentence did it," Mr. Byan said.

"All the parameters are there for stability for the next four years. Now we can get back to work together again," said David L. Bindler, the regional director for Maersk Line and chairman of the STA.

Still, the effects of the strike are sure to linger. The strike greatly worsened the relations between Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mr. Hughes, who have long been at odds.

Monday, just after the strike began, Mr. Hughes blamed the state's interference in the negotiations for his failure to reach an agreement with the STA.

Yesterday afternoon, before the settlement had been announced, Mr. Schaefer lashed out at Mr. Hughes, saying, "I think Richie Hughes of the ILA has set out to destroy our port. He has no regard for that port at all. I think we're just in a very, very sad situation."

Mr. O'Malley added his criticism of Mr. Hughes, saying, "The settlement with the clerks came at the expense of a terrible strike that put another blotch on the image of the port." He called the walkout "an unnecessary strike perpetrated on the port by Local 953."

tTC While criticizing the settlement with Mr. Hughes, Mr. O'Malley described as "worthwhile" the agreement ratified by the other four locals in the port Monday. That agreement would reduce costs for the port's guaranteed-annual-income program, which pays benefits to longshoremen who can't find work.

Mr. Schaefer has traveled extensively in the last year promoting the port to foreign steamship lines. A central element in his pitch has been claims that a new spirit of labor cooperation at the port.

The two-day strike, coming on the heels of a three-day walkout in January, makes it difficult to make that claim convincingly.

Mr. O'Malley, who sat in as an observer at the STA meeting yesterday, noted that an port agency marketing team will be in Atlanta today trying to convince a newly formed steamship line join venture to make Baltimore a port of call on its planned round-the-world service.

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