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Strike Hits Port of Baltimore

Bret Jaspers

Work at the Port of Baltimore came to a halt Wednesday as one of the four unions with employees struck over stalled contract negotiations and members of three other unions honored the picket lines.

The International Longshoremen’s Association Local No. 333 threw up the lines about 5:30 a.m. “I gotta do what I gotta do,” said Michael Robinson, a longshoreman who has worked at the port for 10 years, “I gotta feed my family and we want safe working conditions. All we ask for is a fair contract.”

Many on the picket line said they would stand outside the port’s main entrance as long as necessary. The dispute is between the union and the Steamship Trade Association, which represents the shipping lines.  Association President Michael Angelos told The Baltimore Sun they are urging union officials to return to the negotiating table.

Union members say that it comes down to control over their membership.  “They got control over our local and they shouldn’t have control over our local,” said union spokesman Lamont Coger.

Choosing workers “should be none of management’s concern,” Coger said. “All management’s concern should be is that I need this amount of labor on this vessel and we provide that labor.”

The issues according to Coger go back about a decade.  In addition to control over membership and pay, the union is concerned about cost-cutting that leaders say puts workers at risk. Coger said the union and steamship association had reached a tentative agreement in August, but the pact fell apart as the weeks wore on.

Angelos failed to return calls for comment.

Richard Scher, spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, which is not a party to the talks, said the trade association is seeking an “expedited arbitration” to force the longshoremen back to work.