Baltimore dockworkers narrowly approved a new five-year local contract last night, averting a possible work stoppage that could have diverted badly needed cargo from the port.
Reversing an overwhelmingly negative vote of one week ago, members of the International Longshoremen's Association here voted 456 to 421 to accept the agreement, which includes a controversial $4,000 cash payment in exchange for eliminating the union's sacred guaranteed annual income program.
Dockworkers also accepted cuts in wages and the size of work gangs for break-bulk cargo, though the cuts in gangs were less than those in the original contract rejected Oct. 2.
Work continued on the docks after the union rejected the pact by a 736-to-129 vote last week, with both sides agreeing to extend the old contract while talks resumed. Rejection of the latest proposal, however, likely would have prompted a strike by the union or a lockout by management.
"I think enough men knew that this port would never recover from a work stoppage," said Bill Schonowski, president of Local 333, which represents 900 cargo handlers and is by far the largest of the five ILA locals in Baltimore.
A work stoppage would have sent a devastating message to the steamship industry about stability in the port of Baltimore, which already is losing cargo and steamship lines. Locals unions in other East Coast ports already have settled their contracts.
"There's no joy, no celebration. We do have cuts," Schonowski said. "But if we have given management and the Maryland Port Administration the tools to bring in cargo, then we will have done out job and know we did right."
At the hiring hall in East Baltimore last night, dockworkers bitterly branded the agreement as a sellout, but some insisted that longshoremen had little choice.
"A lot of the guys were scared. They got house payments and stuff like that," said dockworker Tony Diez.
The local contract, in fact, contained the largest cuts in the ILA's history. But both management and labor leaders said it reflected the intense competition among East Coast ports for ships and cargo as the maritime industry undergoes revolutionary changes.
"The acceptance of this contract by the ILA's rank and file is affirmation of their willingness to compete and meet the challenges of our industry today, Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association, said last night.
Asked whether the port will indeed be able to attract more cargo, Byan said:
"It's going to put us in the ballpark."
But many dockworkers were skeptical that such concessions will guarantee more work.
"For a longshoremen, it was a no-win situation, regardless of how it went down," said Milton Krajewski, another veteran longshoremen.
Approval of the local ILA contract last night came nearly a week after about 25,000 longshoremen from Maine to Texas approved a master contract. The master contract increases wages for handling containers from $21 an hour to $25 an hour over five years. However, that pact calls for a three-man cut in the work crews that load and unload containers.
Work rates for handling containers are uniform, set through the national negotiations for more than 20 ports under ILA jurisdiction. But local ILAs set their own terms for handling break bulk cargo, such as steel and wood pulp. In recent years, that has resulted in longshoremen from port to port undercutting each other.
Elsewhere along the East Coast, dockworkers have reached local agreements, with many taking cuts as well in hopes of lower costs to induce steamship lines to bring cargo to their ports. Except for New York, all the ports that were paying guaranteed annual income benefits have now agreed to eliminate them.
Established three decades ago to offset the impact of automation, the guaranteed annual income has long been considered sacred by the ILA. It assured workers an annual income of $30,000 whether or not they worked.
Employers insisted that the guaranteed annual income drove up the cost of doing business at the port of Baltimore. The agreement that the dockworkers here rejected last week would have eliminated the guaranteed income, but substituted a worker assistance program with the same benefits for three years.
Pub Date: 10/10/96