U.S. rail strike could hurt port Port may use more expensive trucking if strike occurs. By: Liz Atwood

April 11, 1991|By Evening Sun Staff

A nationwide railroad strike that could take place next week might hurt the Port of Baltimore, which is struggling to make a comeback after a poor 1990, said Brendan W. "Bud" O'Malley, port director.

O'Malley said that if a rail strike does occur, truckers will move in to carry cargo to and from the port. Trucks, however, would be more expensive than rail service, creating hardship for customers moving freight through the port. About 25 to 30 percent of the cargo going through the port travels by rail, he said.

But O'Malley said the port could benefit if shippers from Asia should decide to bring cargo to the East Coast by water only, rather than using rail from West Coast ports.

Union officials have not said when the strike might begin, but a cooling-off period for unions representing 235,000 workers

and most of the nation's railroads expires just after midnight Tuesday.

Although one of 11 unions representing the nation's railroad employees has reached a tentative agreement with management, union officials said the agreement will do little to stop a nationwide rail strike. The threatened action is expected to halt freight but not passenger trains.

General chairmen representing more than 50,000 clerical, computer and white-collar members of the Transportation-Communication International Union have approved a tentative labor agreement with the railroads. Members now will be mailed ballots to vote upon the contract.

However, the agreement does not cover 21,000 members of TCU's Carmen's division. If that division and 10 other railway employee unions do not reach agreement with management by Tuesday night, it is likely that a national rail strike will occur, union officials said.

TCU officials said all of its members would honor the picket lines regardless of the ratification vote. The union is based in Rockville and has about 4,000 members in the state.

Top officials of 10 of the 11 unions involved in national negotiations promised they won't strike against passenger trains.

"Our complaint is with the railroads, not the traveling public," said Richard I. Kilroy, chairman of the Railway Labor Executives' Association, which represents all of the unions except the United Transportation Union. UTU President Fred A. Hardin also has urged his members not to strike against passenger lines.

CSX Transportation and Conrail provide rail service to shippers in the Baltimore area.

Conrail employs about 350 workers in Maryland and operates 344 route miles in the state. Branches serve Baltimore's port and industrial areas, including the Sparrows Point Branch out of Bayview Yard.

Chris Mykrantz, a Conrail spokesman, said Conrail will not operate if a strike occurs. But he added that the company expects that any strike would last only a few days before Congress would intervene and end the work stoppage by passing a labor agreement as law.

4( CSX employs 2,700 people in Maryland

See RAIL, F10, Col. 4 RAIL, From F14 and operates 450 route miles in the state. A CSX spokesman in Jacksonville, Fla., said CSX plans to keep some freight lines operating with management workers in the event of a strike.

CSX operations here include service to the new Seagirt Marine Terminal, but the company would not say whether that would be part of the freight service the company would preserve during a strike.

Talks between the unions and the National Railway Labor Conference, which represents about 60 rail companies, began in 1988 and hit an impasse when the rail companies pushed to freeze wages and modify

what they call inefficient work rules. The unions attempted to maintain wages, benefits and current jobs.

Attempts by the National Mediation Board and the President's Emergency Board to help settle the disagreements have failed. Labor categorically rejected the recommendations of the President's Emergency Board, saying the pay increases the board suggested were not sufficient and that other provisions would result in a loss of rail jobs.

A 30-day cooling-off period would have expired Feb. 16, but both unions and management agreed to a 60-day extension to avoid a strike during the Persian Gulf war. With the new strike deadline approaching, no one is sure what to expect. Some unions have said they will strike only targeted areas. Others are predicting a nationwide strike.

The last nationwide rail strike occurred in 1982.

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