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Strike Averted For Now At Port Of Baltimore

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — There will be no strike at the Port of Baltimore this weekend. Hundreds of workers threatened the action, which would have had a major impact on one of Maryland’s vital economic engines.

Mike Hellgren has more on the temporary deal and the sticking point for workers.

This all comes down to money, specifically payments that dock workers were getting for handling heavy cargo. A federal mediator said they are very close to a permanent deal but a 30-day deal is all they have for now.

A strike that could have crippled the Port of Baltimore and caused shortages of food and other goods nationwide won’t happen for now.

The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents 1,200 dock workers in Baltimore, and the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents shipping companies, agreed to extend their current contract for another 30 days.

Toni Sommers, the operations manager at TP Trucking, said her drivers planned to work overtime to get off as many containers as possible before the strike. Now, they don’t have to.

“We are going to be able to have a nice weekend and bring in the new year and start over and wait for the next 30 days. The biggest problem of the past couple days is not knowing what was going to happen,” said Sommers.

The Port Administration said it is in everyone’s best interest to get a permanent deal. The port will not be open on Saturday as there is no longer a need to rush to get containers unloaded.

This is the second extension of the current contract that expired in September. The sticking point is money. On top of hourly wages, dock workers make extra money based on the weight of the cargo. Shipping companies wanted to restrict the amount and who gets it.

The strike would have impacted more than just Baltimore, including ports along the East and Gulf Coasts that handle half of all shipments to the United States.

“The ports are a primary piece of the puzzle when it comes to the global supply chain. If they’re not operating as efficiently as possible, it slows down the entire system and hurts the productivity of all the users of the system,” said Jon Gold, National Retail Federation.

Governor Martin O’Malley praised the extension and said he hopes for a long-term resolution.

If both sides can’t work things out by the end of January, any potential strike would not likely affect cruise ships and car or truck shipments, only container deliveries.

Paying extra for cargo weight, in addition to hourly wages, is a practice that began in the 1960s and earns each dock worker a little more than $15,000 a year.

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