Members of the International Longshoremen's Association in Baltimore yesterday overwhelmingly approved a two-year contract extension that should ensure harmony at the port.
The ILA's five locals here, representing 1,700 Longshoremen, voted 955-to-144 to accept the extension. The union locals were among ILA members from Maine to Texas who voted in favor of the pact.
Under the terms of the extension, dockworkers will forgo a scheduled $1-an-hour wage increase that would have raised their pay to $22 an hour. That money instead will go into the ILA's health and pension benefits funds.
"There's no cloud over our head now," said Edward Burke, president of Local 333, representing 1,100 cargo handlers. "It gives carriers peace of mind knowing they can move the cargo and the guys peace of mind knowing they'll have a job."
Maurice Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, which represents the port's employers, said the improved labor relations in the past 2 1/2 years have resulted in more cargo and more work for the union.
"The Longshoremen recognize the benefits of increased stability at the port of Baltimore," he said.
The current contract -- reached after turbulent negotiations in 1989 -- had been scheduled to expire Oct. 1, 1994. It will now be extended until 1996.
"It's three more years that I don't have to worry about," Vincent Fullano, a 49-year-old cargo handler, said yesterday after voting to approve the extension at the Steamship Trade Association's Longshoremen's hiring hall in Highlandtown. "That's all that counts."
ILA locals representing 50,000 Longshoremen at other East Coast ports were expected to easily approve the contract extension yesterday.
As a weak economy and automation wipe out jobs, Longshoremen said yesterday, giving up the $1-an-hour wage increase is a small price to pay for job security, particularly because the wage savings will be diverted to their benefits fund.
"It takes a lot of pressure off us," said Robert Paul, a 56-year-old South Baltimore worker and member of Local 333. "Besides, we're not negotiating a new contract. We're just keeping what we've got."
More difficult issues lie ahead, when management and the ILA begin to negotiate a new contract as the current one nears its end in 1996.
"Then, we'll be talking job protection," Mr. Paul said. "That's really what's most important."
The contract extension left unchanged the issue of the ILA's guaranteed annual income program, under which the steamship companies ensure a minimum annual income for Longshoremen who cannot find work on the docks.