Baltimore dock union facing takeover amid contract talks

After an investigation that revealed missing money and questionable financial practices, officials of a national longshoremen's union are considering seizing control of a Baltimore chapter — a move that could complicate contract negotiations at the port.

According to an internal committee report of the International Longshoremen's Association obtained by The Baltimore Sun, a "trusteeship hearing" in Baltimore found that money was missing from accounts of ILA Local 333. It also found that union debit cards were used for nonunion expenses.

The committee, which also noted a feud between two of the local's officers, said it had "uncovered a number of financial practices that could expose the local to investigations by the Department of Labor and perhaps even liability." It retained jurisdiction over the investigation pending an independent audit of the local chapter's finances, a process that is ongoing, according to Kevin J. Marrinan, a national ILA attorney.

The investigation and infighting could affect contract negotiations at the port, which employs more than 14,600 workers and is responsible for $3 billion in personal wages and salaries, according to Maryland Port Administration statistics.

Darrell VanDeusen, a local labor attorney who represents employers in contract negotiations but is not involved in the ILA contract, said it is hard to tell whether unionized longshoremen or port of Baltimore employers would benefit more from a national takeover of Local 333, partly because "so much in negotiations really is the individual relationships" that people have with those sitting across from them.

But if stubborn local officers distracted by infighting within their union were removed, everyone could benefit, VanDeusen said, even if the international officials aren't any "kinder or gentler" than their local counterparts.

"I don't care who I'm going to be talking to, but if I'm going to be talking to someone who has authority and isn't going to be distracted by all this other stuff, that's fine," said VanDeusen, also an adjunct professor of labor and employment at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Neither Local 333 officials nor their attorney responded to requests for comment.

Union leaders have been immersed in heated contract negotiations since October, when Local 333 — Baltimore's largest ILA chapter, with some 1,200 members — called a three-day strike that paralyzed operations at the port's public terminals. The strike raised doubts among port customers about Baltimore's reliability as a major port of call.

A federal arbitrator ordered the local to pay nearly $4 million in damages for the strike's impact on container cargo, which is protected against work stoppages under a separate coastwide master contract. National ILA officials publicly stepped in to help lead the local contract negotiations in February, with hopes of negotiating down the amount of damages.

The ILA committee report noted that the local's secretary-treasurer, Daryl Wilburn, and its president, Riker "Rocky" McKenzie, had been feuding — a dispute that triggered the look into its finances.

In early November, weeks after the strike, the two got into a fight and police went to the union hall on Hull Street in Locust Point. That day, McKenzie filed a written complaint in Baltimore District Court alleging that Wilburn had assaulted him, "jerking, yanking and finally lifting me ... and slamming me into the concrete tile floor with vicious force causing injury to my neck, head, jaw and back."

Ten days later, Wilburn filed a countercomplaint, alleging that McKenzie had "attempted to murder" him by trying to push him over a second-floor railing. "Mr. McKenzie came into my office in an aggressive manner and threw papers, banged and shook cabinets, attempted to force me to change documents for his benefit," Wilburn wrote.

Both men face charges of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, which are scheduled to be aired at a trial Tuesday.

Within weeks of the fight, Wilburn sent a long list of complaints to national ILA officials about the local's operations under McKenzie, asking the officials to "come protect the assets and funds of the ILA."

ILA President Harold Daggett soon called the "trusteeship hearing," which was held over seven hours Dec. 17 in the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. The committee's findings were sent to Local 333 officials in mid-February.

The report noted violations of the ILA constitution and Local 333's bylaws and questioned some of the local's financial practices. The committee said McKenzie's $50-per-day meal and unlimited fuel allowances would "raise a red flag for any investigator from the Department of Labor."

Unions submit detailed annual financial filings to the U.S. Department of Labor, which sets standards for safeguarding union assets.

The last financial filing that Local 333 submitted is for fiscal year 2012, when the local reported about $1.1 million in total receipts and nearly $2 million in net assets, according to the Labor Department website.

McKenzie declined to speak to a reporter when reached for this article, and other members of the Local 333 executive board did not respond to an email sent to a Local 333 media account. The union's attorney, Jennifer Stair, did not reply to a request for comment.