Maryland Senate proposes 'PORT Act' to aid thousands of jobless workers amid port shutdown

With the port of Baltimore shut down and ship traffic halted - thousands of port workers are out of a job.

Tuesday, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson announced that his office is drafting emergency legislation for an income replacement program for impacted workers and businesses.

Called the PORT Act, which stands for Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade, Ferguson said that the money would come from Maryland's rainy day fund, which has seen a surplus over the last several years from federal pandemic dollars.

"We have over $2 billion in rainy day funds right now, and I would say with the Key Bridge into the Patapsco River, there is nothing more rainy than that," Ferguson, who has represented the port district for the last 14 years, said.


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Once the bill passes both chambers and is signed by Maryland Governor Wes Moore, Ferguson said he hopes funds would be accessible to workers within the next couple of weeks.

According to Ferguson, the port of Baltimore directly employs 15,000 workers and, indirectly, 100,000 workers.

That's everyone from truckers and cleaning crews, to ship maintenance, loading and unloading, clerical positions, and a wide variety of jobs in between.

BAYONNE, NEW JERSEY - MARCH 26: Cranes stand over shipping containers at the Port of Newark on March 26, 2024 as seen from Bayonne, New Jersey. Supply chains at ports up and down the East Coast are expected to be affected after a cargo ship hit and c

Leaders representing the longshoremen and women who work on the port say they have been in contact with local, state, and federal officials, trying to navigate what comes next in such an unprecedented situation.

"They have families, it's how they pay their bills and put their food on the table. There's the 2,400 ILA members, there's also about 15,000 to 20,000 direct jobs - truckers, warehouses - these ILA workers, they worked all through the pandemic, we never missed a beat," said Scott Cowan, president of the International Longshoreman's Association Local 333.


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Cowan said ILA members are currently unloading or working on maintenance on one or two ships, but by the end of next week, the majority will be out of work.

"You could never dream something like this was going to happen," Cowan said. "It's very serious and very tough on our members."

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Richard Kreuger, Jr. is the president of the International Longshoreman's Association Local 953, representing about 250 workers.

"It's a tragic issue for the entire region, especially for the ILA right now, but we'll get through it," Kreuger said. "It's going to be a tough time but we'll find a way and stick together and find a way to get the channel back open and everybody will be back to work."

Both union leaders wanted to emphasize the top priority right now, as we wrap up day two of this tragedy, is the recovery efforts underway to find the construction workers killed in the bridge collapse - and their thoughts are with the grieving families left behind.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activated its emergency operations center on March 26, clearing the way for more than 1,100 engineering, construction and operations specialists to provide support. There is no clear timeline for when the channel could potentially be reopened to ship traffic.