Despite cost-savings contained in recently settled labor agreements, waterfront employers at the port of Baltimore have had to raise by more than one-third the fee charged to port users for a dockworker unemployment program.
The Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) program pays senior members of the International Longshoremen's Association when there is insufficient work for them. Once inexpensive, the program's costs ballooned past $10 million last year.
Baltimore's GAI assessment has been cited as raising the costs of business and contributing to the flood of business to competing ports, especially Hampton Roads, Va., where an abundance of work has resulted in little if any GAI payouts.
The problem has been a drop in business at the port. As work is lost, more longshoremen draw payments. And, because the program is funded by assessments based on man hours of work, slumping business means less revenue for the program. Total man hours have dropped from nearly 6 million annually 10 years ago to about 2.4 million in the contract year that ended Oct. 1.
Retroactive to last Saturday, the assessment was raised from $2.75 per man hour to $3.75 per man hour. The change was
approved Wednesday by the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. which represents employers of ILA members at the port.
"It's something that was not totally unexpected," said Maurice Byan, president of the trade association.
Contracts reached over the past week with the dockworkers' union tightened the eligibility rules for receiving GAI benefits. The agreements also increased slightly the level of benefits paid but at a rate less than that of most other ports.