Seven months into a four-year contract, longshoremen at the Port of Baltimore are accusing management of giving preferential treatment to some work gangs.
Officials of International Longshoremen's Association Local 333 took their grievance this week to a federal arbitrator. They allege that three stevedoring companies are not keeping their promise in the contract to make "every effort" to give longshoremen enough hours to receive Guaranteed Annual Income benefits.
Under the contract adopted by the locals in December, each longshoreman must work at least 200 hours in two of the last three years in order to receive the GAI money. The GAI program pays benefits to longshoremen when they cannot find work on the docks.
Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, vice president of Local 333, said 12 gangs have not received their fair share of the work and are in danger of losing their benefits.
Each gang, when full, numbers 13 to 17 workers.
Five of the gangs are employed by Ceres Corp., two are with ITO Corp., and one is with the Terminal Corp. Four of the gangs are not assigned to specific stevedoring companies.
Management's position is that there simply is not enough work to go around. "Business has declined drastically in the past few years," says Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, which represents port employers.
But union officials contend that some gangs receive preferential treatment and are given work while others are not. They say the pecking order is based on how long the gang has worked for a specific stevedoring company.
The problem has been aggravated by consolidation in the industry. Gangs that were assigned to stevedoring companies that have gone out of business find themselves suddenly without work or reassigned to another company that gives preference to its longtime workers.
The GAI program was a sore point in negotiations last winter when the unions refused to accept management's offer, which would have required workers to log at least 300 hours of work in two of the last three years to maintain their eligibility for benefits. The eventual agreement reduced the number to 200 hours.
As a result fewer longshoremen will be cut from the GAI rolls than management had hoped.
McKenzie says the stevedore firms have taken another approach to reduce the number receiving benefits by not employing the gangs for the 200-hour minimum.
A decision from the arbitrator is expected in three to four weeks.