Maersk question unresolved

Grooms

Nearly three weeks after Maersk Line announced its intentions to depart from the Port of Charleston and the scramble to save its business began, the situation remains static, worrying one state lawmaker.

"The longer this thing drags out, the harder it will be to have Maersk reverse their decision," said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, who has led discussion among port leaders, union officials and company representatives.

"There's been a proposal, but not all parties have signed off on it, so we're still working out the details," Grooms said. "I had hoped we would already have resolution to this."

He and others close to the situation declined to share details of that proposal.

Meanwhile, the State Ports Authority board of directors met Wednesday in Columbia in a closed-door session at the state Commerce Department offices. Much of the meeting was related to Maersk, according to the SPA, but the agency declined to elaborate about what was discussed.

In a similar show of concern, members of the maritime community came together earlier this week at an event at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. Its purpose, organizer Benjamin Flowers Jr. said, was to display waterfront solidarity to Maersk and to every other port customer.

An estimated 100 people, including shipping company representatives, truckers and longshoremen, attended. Flowers said the event aimed to stress the statewide importance of the maritime community.

"A lot of jobs are going to come with enhancing the industry we have," he said. "It's going to spread from the port throughout the state."

One panelist, Bill Campbell of the Port Truckers Association, stepped away from the unity movement to speak in defense of organized labor, on which Maersk has placed blame for its decision to leave.

"This is all about busting the union here in the South, knowing people in the state of South Carolina are weak on union work," he said Wednesday. "If they succeed here, they know they can succeed elsewhere."

Maersk, the world's largest containercarrier and the port's largest customer, wanted the International Longshoremen's Association to allow it to break its contract and move into a part of the Wando Welch Terminal in which SPA employees would perform work historically handled by organized labor.

The three maritime unions, in a unanimous vote last month, rejected that proposal.

Maersk officials announced shortly thereafter that the shipping line would pull out completely by the end of its contract on Dec. 31, 2010, and that 25 percent of its business would leave within the next few months. Maersk accounts for 20 percent of Charleston's container volume.