Port's clerks go back to work Angry Gov. Schaefer terms two-day strike 'totally unnecessary'

December 05, 1990|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this story.

Work gangs got busy loading and unloading cargo ships today in the Port of Baltimore after striking members of Local 953 of the International Longshoremen's Association reached a tentative agreement with waterfront employers to end a two-day strike.

The 400 members of the local, which represents cargo clerks, will vote later on the proposal, which if approved would last until the fall of 1994.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, clearly angry about the two-day work stoppage that ended this morning when the clerks began reporting to the hiring hall in the 1100 block of Hull St., today termed the strike "totally unnecessary."

Whether they agreed, the dockworkers were happy to be back at work. "It wasn't long, but it was too long for everyone," said Local 953 member Warren Townes as he headed into the union hall this morning to sign up for work.

The tentative agreement was reached about 4:30 p.m. yesterday.

As with most strikes, there was no agreement over who, if anyone, actually "won" the strike that disrupted port operations. Neither side seemed to get precisely what it was looking for at the bargaining table, and state officials said the proposal gave the union too much.

"This strike was totally unnecessary," said Schaefer. "Had there been a responsible person in the union and in New York [union headquarters], we would have not been in this position.

"For the first time," Schaefer said, "I see such damage done as a result of this that it'll take a long time to restore the confidence of the shippers in our state." But others are holding out hope that the pact, when coupled with the other labor agreements reached over the past two weeks, will help Baltimore regain lost business.

"I'm extremely pleased," Richard P. Hughes Jr., business agent for Local 953, said of the agreement.

Both sides compromised to reach the agreement. The clerks had sought very specific guarantees to create or preserve work for the union; management wanted to limit the union's right to certain jobs, especially those that involve the computerized processing of data, according to sources involved in the talks.

In the end, the union agreed to a management proposal that simply affirms a clause of the newly settled ILA national contract. The clause says the clerks in each port have the right to the work they have traditionally performed, which will mean that some computer inputing now done by non-ILA members at some places in the port will become union work.

Disputes over interpretation of the contract clause will be settled by a joint labor-management panel of leaders from throughout the industry, probably meeting in New York.

The clerks won some additional staffing in other areas, though most negotiators said it is far shy of the amount of jobs the local lost during the last contract negotiations in January. There will be a return of some jobs for "ship runners," who tend to details of ships before, during and after port calls. But other staffing changes will cancel each other out, leaving the union with a net gain of about one job for every ship call, sources said.

Union concerns about the shifting of money between benefits funds were settled with a letter from management, represented by the Steamship Trade Association Inc., saying it had no plans to do that.

"This, in my opinion, was not a good move on his part," said one management adversary of Hughes, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Other than the changes on the computer language, the final agreement was identical to the one rejected by the union early Monday morning.

Another management official said: "He [Hughes] went on strike and didn't gain anything. He tried to expand his jurisdiction and he didn't." Furthermore, Hughes was weakened by the spectacle of other ILA members crossing the picket lines of his local, he said.

But Brendan "Bud" O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said, "To achieve a settlement, the STA granted a significant number of jobs. We are not very happy with the results because of how the settlement may affect our competitiveness."

However, when the proposal is considered with the settlements with the port's other ILA locals, the port is better off than it was under the previous contracts, he said.

Hughes said the agreement will not result in more jobs for his members but insisted that the new contract language will help establish his union's jurisdiction at a time when computers are becoming more common on the docks.

"I was extremely disappointed that it became necessary for us to do what we had to do," Hughes said, blaming pressure from the state to keep costs down and hampering talks.

The pact contains one element that no other port has: The clerks agreed to work for straight-time pay on 10 of their 16 holidays. The contract also provides for flexible work schedules that will allow the terminals to be open from 6 a.m. to midnight, and for midnight ship calls, which the port's other four ILA locals also accepted, Hughes said.

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