Concessions = jobs at port of Baltimore

Contract vote: Despite qualms, longshoremen support changes that could mean big shipping deal.

June 30, 2000

CHANGE IS difficult, especially when it affects the way you do your job.

That helps explain why members of International Longshoremen's Association Local 333 twice rejected new work rules that could mean a big increase in shipping at the port of Baltimore.

Why make further concessions, many of them asked. Enough is enough.

But not when those work changes could lead to a dramatic jump in the number of ships docking at Baltimore.

Wallenius Wilhelmsen, the world's largest maritime carrier of cars, farm equipment and other roll-on/roll-off cargo, wants to make Baltimore its regional hub. The state wants to spend tens of millions of dollars on new facilities at a 150-acre port site.

All that's missing is the support of maritime unions.

While Local 333 members continue to express reluctance, three other ILA locals at the port voted overwhelmingly in favor of contract concessions. Combined, it appears there are enough votes to swing the balloting in favor of bringing more cargo to Baltimore.

This could prove a turning point. Wallenius Wilhelmsen is the port's No. 1 shipping line. Once its regional cargo center comes here, business should grow rapidly. That translates into more work for longshoremen.

In the intensely competitive maritime economy, resistance to change is counterproductive. If the ILA had rejected Wallenius Wilhelmsen's overtures, the company simply would have given more cargo business to Norfolk or Philadelphia instead of Baltimore.

Happily, cooler heads prevailed. Work-rule changes requested by the shipping line are modest. The trade-off is more work for more longshoremen.

Baltimore's brighter maritime prospects are a result of cooperative labor leaders doing what it takes to increase port business. Rank-and-file longshoremen now have given state leaders the go-ahead to cement Wallenius Wilhelmsen's growing ties to the port.

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