Port avoids longshoremen strike — for now
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 12:07

Negotiations extended until Jan. 28

by Nicole Rodman

    A longshoremen’s strike set to begin at midnight on  Dec. 30 was avoided — at least temporarily — after union and management officials agreed to extend contract negotiations until Jan. 28.
    With the terms of a new six-year contract between the International Longshoremen’s Association and the U.S. Maritime Alliance at stake, officials have been negotiating the contract since the fall.
    The International Longshoremen’s Association represents 14,500 workers, including 1,400 port workers in Baltimore.
    The U.S. Maritime Alliance represents 43 shipping companies and port operators across the country. Ports America, operator of the Seagirt Marine Terminal, is among the Alliance’s members.
    As the clock ticked toward a strike, ports on the east and gulf coasts, including the Port of Baltimore, began preparing for the possibility that business on cargo and cruise ships would be brought to a halt.
    In a press release issued last Thursday morning, Maryland Port Administration (MPA) executive director James J. White announced plans to open the Dundalk and Seagirt Marine Terminals for extended business hours on Saturday, Dec. 29, if no deal was reached by then.

As a result of the deadline extension, however, the marine terminals were not opened on Dec. 29.
    While union officials contemplated striking, management  officials eyed a possible lockout.
    Under the terms of a lockout, workers would be unable to return to the port until the lockout is lifted.
    Earlier in the week, union and management officials agreed to meet with a federal mediator in an attempt to avert a strike.
    One main point holding up negotiations was over container royalty payments made to the union and members.
    The container royalty payment, based on the weight of cargo handled, adds approximately $15,000 to each longshoremen’s paycheck annually. The payment has been a part of the system since the 1960s.
    In negotiating a new six-year contract, management officials sought to cap container royalty payments at their 2011 levels, a move objected to by union negotiators.
    This point of contention was apparently resolved as federal mediator George Cohen announced last Friday that an agreement on royalty payments had been reached.
    Cohen declined to discuss the terms of the agreed upon proposal, citing ongoing negotiations.
    Under the terms of the just-announced contract extension, union and management negotiations have until Jan. 28 to reach a deal.
    As federal mediator Cohen remarked in a statement last Friday, “While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”
    For his part, MPA executive director James J. White was pleased that a deal was reached.
    In a statement last Friday, White remarked, “We’re pleased that both sides were able to reach an agreement on a 30-day extension. This will ensure that normal cargo operations at the Port of Baltimore will proceed business as usual during that time period.”
    He added, “We hope that both sides use this extended time wisely and continue to talk in order to make progress toward a new agreement.  It is within everyone’s best interests to do so.”
    For her part, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski reacted optimistically to news of the extended talks.
    Taking to Twitter Friday, Mikulski wrote, “Dock workers and Port able to come together to avoid a strike – need Congress to do same thing and avoid fiscal cliff.”
    In a later message, she also called the deadline extension “good news for families, jobs and economy.”
    Governor Martin O’Malley also reacted to news of the 30-day extension.
    In a statement last Friday, he said, “I’d like to commend today’s decision by the International Longshoremen’s Association and the United States Maritime Alliance to extend their negotiations by 30 days to produce a new master labor agreement for ports along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.”
    He added, “During this extended period, we hope that a long-term resolution can be reached for the well-being of Maryland’s hardworking families who depend on jobs and commerce linked to the Port of Baltimore.”
    While the news is good, it is only a temporary reprieve. Negotiators have until Jan. 28 to come to a permanent agreement.