Horace W. Davis, head of one of the five dockworkers locals in the port of Baltimore, has called for a summit of port leaders from labor, management and the state to devise ways of defusing problems before they become harmful disputes.
"I am deeply concerned about the image of the port of Baltimore," Mr. Davis wrote in a letter sent to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and John Bowers, the New York-based president of the International Longshoremen's Association.
Other recipients of the letter included Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration; Maurice C. Byan, the head of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc.; Horace Alston, the highest-ranking ILA official in Baltimore; and the heads of the other four ILA locals in the port.
Mr. Davis is president of ILA Local 1429, the third-largest in the port with about 400 members.
His group includes the workers who inspect and repair cargo containers and their truck trailers, as well as the men who handle the lines of ships as they dock or prepare to set sail.
"I don't think it's necessary for us always to be in an adversarial position," Mr. Davis said yesterday during an interview.
"We just owe it to ourselves to at least sit down and talk about it. If we continue along this path, I don't think any of us will benefit."
Mr. Davis said he hoped that a gathering of port leaders could agree on ways to monitor problems and keep them from hurting the port's reputation.
His proposal came in the wake of a two-day strike last week by the clerks and checkers of ILA Local 953, the dockworkers who do the paperwork on cargo movements.
It was the second walkout at the Baltimore port this year and was widely viewed as an action that could have a long-lasting negative impact on the port's ability to attract shipping lines.
John T. Menzies III, chairman of Terminal Corp. and a member of the management team that negotiated the new local contract with the ILA, said yesterday that he welcomed any proposals that would lead to greater tranquillity in the port.
"It sounds like an interesting suggestion," he said of Mr. Davis' proposal.
Mr. Menzies said that for such an idea to succeed, however, it would have to be embraced by the rest of the ILA leadership in the port, which meets regularly as the Baltimore District Council.
"It's got to come out of the District Council," Mr. Menzies said. "Coming from the District Council it might be compelling. You've got to have the whole team."
It was unclear yesterday how the rest of the ILA leadership would react. Mr. Alston, president of the District Council, said he had not talked to Mr. Davis about his proposal and that he intended to seek the advice of Mr. Bowers, the ILA president.
The governor's office and the Maryland Port Administration did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Davis observed, "We've just been labeled with that [bad] image. It's important for somebody to do something about it. . . . I'm hoping to get some suggestions on how we can turn this thing around."