Good news for the port

September 02, 1994

One of the biggest bugaboos for the Port of Baltimore over the years has been the perception within the maritime industry that this port has a hostile labor climate. But reality on the docks has changed dramatically.

The won't-work-in-the-rain edict by the longshoremen's union expired some time ago. And now the Guaranteed Annual Income of $30,000 a year for each union member is also heading slowly for the exit.

That's good news for Baltimore's maritime community. Relations between union bosses, port business leaders and state officials have never been better. There is a real sense of cooperation and mutual respect developing. That's essential if Baltimore is to increase its cargo share in the cutthroat competition among East Coast ports.

Listen to what the port's most influential labor representative, Richard P. Hughes Jr., had to say of the deal he negotiated for his checkers' union Local 953 to end its dependency on the GAI: "In order to stay competitive, the port has to reduce its overall costs. Sooner or later we'd be out of work."

So Mr. Hughes' local agreed to a plan under which 50 members will retire Oct. 1 in exchange for $65,000 each. The union local, in turn, will give up its right to draw from the GAI fund.

That's a major break for steamship lines and stevedoring companies that have had to pay a $4-a-man-hour assessment to finance the GAI. And the union gains because there will be more work for the remaining checkers and clerks after the buyout.

It is an important first step toward eventually eliminating the GAI entirely at the port. The GAI puts Baltimore at a disadvantage because of the extra $10 million a year that is assessed against shipping firms to underwrite the GAI. Only the ports of Baltimore, Boston and New York are still paying GAI benefits.

The longshoremen's union took a pragmatic look at the GAI problem -- and the related problem of assuring work for its checkers and clerks. What emerged was a "win-win situation," as Mr. Hughes described it.

The biggest winner of all is the Port of Baltimore.

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