ILA strike ends port chief assails pact Walkout causes brief annoyance, long-term doubts

December 05, 1990|By David Conn

The agreement yesterday afternoon between port management and the union clerks ended a two-day job action that marked the first time in a decade that members of one longshoremen's local had refused to honor another's strike.

But few ships were diverted from Baltimore because of the strike, and shipping officials said they suffered minimal economic damage as few containers were left stranded on the piers. More difficult to gauge was the long-term impact on the port's reputation of yet another dockworkers strike in Baltimore.

The pre-dawn chill and rain failed to keep members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 953, known as checkers, from walking the picket line outside Baltimore's port terminals yesterday. The rest of the 2,000 longshoremen in town, meanwhile, had to wrestle with the decision of whether to cross the line.

For many members of Local 333, the largest local in Baltimore, it was an easy decision. Most of the four gangs of men called to work yesterday reported on time. The members of Local 333 load and unload the cargo from the ships. Shipping lines, stevedoring companies, and officials of Local 333 reported yesterday that the longshoremen were in fact working the piers.

But because Local 953 was on strike, truckers could not $H complete the paperwork needed to bring their loads into the terminals, or take them out once they were unloaded from the ships.

Officials from a few shipping lines that do business in Baltimore, including Containership Agency, a subsidiary of Mediterranean Shipping Co. S.A., and Atlantic Container Line, said they had to divert ships due to arrive in Baltimore yesterday to other ports. The Mediterranean ship went to Newport News, according to Containership Vice President Lorenzo di Casagrande, and theAtlantic ship went to New York,an official with the company said.

Benjamin F. Wilson, port manager for Lavino Shipping Agencies, said one of the ships was being unloaded at the Curtis Bay shipyard and another was due to arrive today.

"At this moment it has not cost us anything, except the aggravation," he said, noting his many hours on the telephone mollifying nervous clients.

At Seagirt, seven truckers from the Shadduck Trucking Co. in Williamsport, Pa., waited outside the gates with trailers full of lumber products to be shipped abroad. Some had slept in their truck cabins the night before.

Mike Welshans, one of the drivers, said he expected they would have to drive their loads back to Pennsylvania last night if the strike continued.

At 7 a.m. yesterday, only a few of Local 953's members had showed up at the Dundalk terminal. But by 9:30 a.m., there were several pickets at both the Dundalk gates and in front of Seagirt nearby.

Striking longshoremen at the Locust Point Terminal in South Baltimore said they had been there since 6 a.m. "Everybody has to make a moral decision" about whether to honor the pickets, said Richard Hughes, a cousin of Local 953's business agent, Richard P. Hughes Jr. "If we had our contract and it was [Local] 333 walking here, I'd be home," he said.

The checkers watched and occasionally shouted taunts as some members of other ILA locals drove through the gates at Dundalk.

"Most of the ones you see averting their eyes, you know they're longshoremen," said Local 953 member John Ferguson.

Other longshoremen, however, showed up and walked the lines for a while to express their support for the clerks' strike.

"These are union people here," said Chuck Gorecki, a driver with Local 333, the largest of Baltimore's five locals. "These are my brothers."

Inside Shed 6 at Dundalk, however, members of Local 333 were doing their own jobs and, they said, the jobs of the checkers: the paperwork needed to process cargo in the terminal. "They don't stop me from working," said 333 member Joe Harris, a tractor driver. "They don't pay my bills."

Union and management officials later denied that Local 333 members were doing any work but their own.

Mr. Harris said he used to honor the clerks' strikes, but "not anymore." He and other members of Local 333 said they no longer felt as close to Local 953 since its leadership chose to bargain contracts separately from the other four locals earlier this year.

The checkers "wanted to negotiate separately -- they went separate," said one longshoreman at Local 333's hiring hall, where talk of mortgage payments and an ailing economy prompted members to take jobs offered by the dispatcher.

Another longshoreman said, "333 is working. That's all -- it's simple."

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