Bias suit against port firm dropped

October 28, 1992|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

A federal lawsuit charging a Baltimore stevedoring company with race discrimination has been dropped for lack of evidence, but some black longshoremen claimed yesterday that favoritism continues to plague the port.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said yesterday that it gave up on the lawsuit it had filed last year, alleging that the Ceres Corp. was giving less work to three gangs of black longshoremen than to gangs made up predominantly of white workers.

Longshoremen, who move cargo on and off ships, are organized into "gangs" of 17 workers each. Many of the gangs are racially segregated because their members joined before 1969, when a federal judge ordered the integration of the Baltimore branch of the International Longshoremen's Association. New members of a gang are chosen according to seniority, not race.

David Norken, an attorney for the EEOC, said the government filed the discrimination suit against Ceres because an initial investigation had found that the company was steering the work of unloading cargo ships away from black crews despite their high seniority and productivity.

But Mr. Norken said he dropped the case this week because further investigation had failed to support the earlier findings.

Ceres officials hailed the move as a "vindication" of the way they assign work.

"We try to be fair to everyone," Ed Heinlein, vice president of Ceres, said in a statement yesterday.

Ceres' attorney, Gil Abramson, said the dismissal "gives credibility to the consistent position of management throughout the port that assignments are made according to the non-discriminatory contractual requirements."

Mr. Abramson said he believed the allegations were a result of bad times for the port and the economy. "This is a reflection that there isn't enough work," he said.

But black longshoremen interviewed yesterday said that no matter what the EEOC did, they were convinced that blacks were getting less work than equally qualified whites throughout the port.

"The white gangs work every day,and my gang works maybe 1 1/2 days or maybe not at all," said Curtis Wilmot, a longshoreman for 20 years.

Mr. Wilmot, who is black and works for a Ceres gang, doesn't believe Ceres' claim that it apportions work according to productivity.

Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, the vice president of the largest longshoremen's local in Baltimore, who is also black, said work is apportioned unfairly throughout the port.

"If we continue to perpetuate this racial imbalance, Baltimore's port won't have an opportunity to reach its full potential," he said.

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