New port station aims to boost jobs, efficiency

January 10, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

All Freight Distribution Co. Inc. won a two-year contract from the state yesterday to operate a container freight station designed to generate more work for members of the International Longshoremen's Association in the port of Baltimore and to increase the efficiency with which cargo can be processed for shipment.

The new freight station is expected to go into operation early next month in a shed at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.

If successful, the station will bring back to the docks much of the loading and unloading of containers now done by non-ILA workers away from the piers. The Carriers Container Council, an organization representing steamship lines, will subsidize the wages of the ILA workers to help make the container freight station more competitive with non-ILA operations.

Mark Eisenberg, president of Baltimore-based All Freight, said the company's initial projections for the freight station call for 10,000 man-hours a year, the equivalent of five full-time workers.

The container council will pay the $19-an-hour base wage, and All Freight will pay fringe benefits and other labor costs.

Mr. Eisenberg said he hopes the container freight station will permit his company to offer faster and more efficient services at prices competitive with those of off-dock companies.

Individual cargo containers the size of truck trailers often contain the goods of more than one shipper or a variety of goods bound for more than one destination.

Such containers must be unloaded and the goods reorganized for shipment inland by rail or truck. The process works in reverse for goods at that have to be repacked in containers for export.

Mr. Eisenberg's company will provide these and other services to expedite the movement of goods in and out of the marine terminal.

By providing the services on the docks, the All Freight operation should be more efficient than off-dock operations, Mr. Eisenberg said, adding that he will be able to offer much quicker delivery.

"The whole drayage process is less involved," he said of an on-dock operation compared with one where the cargo must be trucked to an off-dock site for processing.

Flexible work practices agreed to by the ILA, including less restrictive overtime rules, will make it possible to run a 24-hour operation eventually if cargo volumes are adequate, Mr. Eisenberg said.

The contract was approved yesterday by the state Board of Public Works. Gov. William Donald Schaefer said in a prepared statement that the container freight station idea represents "an innovative undertaking designed to bring back to the docks work which the port has been losing."

If successful in generating more work for longshoremen, the program could help to lower the port's overall costs associated with the guaranteed annual income program, which pays benefits to underemployed longshoremen.

"That's a very big benefit for the port," said Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

The Carriers Container Council contributes to a fund to support container freight stations as part of its contract with the ILA. Such stations already are operating at some other ILA ports, including Baltimore's chief competitor, Hampton Roads, Va.

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