The unwillingness of longshoremen in Hampton Roads, Va., to work unlimited late-night shifts should help the port of Baltimore retain the business of Maersk Line, Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. said yesterday.
Baltimore's ability to offer steamship lines unlimited midnight starts gives the port "a leg up on Hampton Roads," Mr. Byan said.
Under the local contract that went into effect in Hampton Roads late last year, only four midnight shifts are permitted in the Virginia ports per month. Moreover, those late-night starts are restricted to containerships.
Longshoremen in Baltimore, by contrast, agreed to work unlimited midnight starts on ships of all kinds.
Last week, management in Hampton Roads went back to the members of the International Longshoremen's Association to ask them to agree to unlimited midnight starts, but the longshoremen rejected the proposal by a wide margin in a vote held Wednesday.
Hampton Roads, which in recent years has witnessed rapid cargo growth, largely at Baltimore's expense, has enjoyed a reputation for great labor cooperation and stability, while Baltimore projected an image of discord and turbulence. Last year alone, Baltimore experienced two separate dock strikes.
John T. Menzies III, chairman of the private-sector port committee in Baltimore, said of the vote in Hampton Roads, "These are the kinds of signals we like to hear them sending out."
Late-night shifts help lines keep their ships on schedule, especially in winter, when bad weather often delays ships. During the first three months of last year, before Baltimore longshoremen had agreed to unlimited midnight starts, Maersk diverted seven ships from Baltimore to Norfolk to help them make up time on their schedules. This year, because of the more flexible rules on midnight starts, Maersk has diverted only one ship.
Johnnie J. Johnson, president of the Hampton Roads Shipping Association, which represents management in the Virginia ports, said he was disappointed because unlimited midnight starts would have helped Virginia keep its edge in the battle for cargo and steamship lines. "It's a competitive marketing tool," he said, "of great value to a port.
"We are not giving up on it. We have to sit back and regroup," he said, adding that another vote may be taken later.