Baltimore trains dockworkers to keep up with demand

International Longshoremen Association Local 333 members wrangle Case CX30C Mini Excavators through an obstacle course at the 23rd annual Port of Baltimore Ro-Ro Rodeo. Credit: MDOT Maryland Port Administration/Bill McAllen.

Earlier this month, 240 new longshoremen and women learned to handle 30 new models of farm and construction equipment, built by manufacturers including Caterpillar and John Deere, at the Port of Baltimore’s Ro-Ro Rodeo. The annual training event ensures that longshore workers can correctly operate, secure, and unsecure the high-and-heavy or rolling stock — also referred to as roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) cargo — loaded and discharged at the port.

In 2018, Baltimore handled 820,445 tons (imports and exports) of ro-ro cargo, up 12.8 percent from 727,946 tons in 2017. So far this year, ro-ro cargo is up 18 percent compared with the first quarter of 2018, according to the port. The port also handled 850,147 cars and light trucks at its public and private terminals during 2018.

“We bring in the high-and-heavy guys, and they bring in their more difficult machines to operate,” Rick Powers, director of sales and marketing with the Maryland Port Administration, said of the training rodeo last year. “We put them in a large area and [the manufacturers] refresh the driving teams and let them practice. You can't beat the training.

“The auto side is not as confusing as the high-and-heavy. It’s not as complex,” he added. “All the stakeholders are there: high-and-heavy, autos, labor, carriers, processors, rail, truckers, etc.”

At the rodeo, representatives from more than 10 manufacturers donated their time to train laborers on how to start and stop the equipment; control attachments, such as backhoes; and turn with precision to safely load and unload the equipment from vessels. This year, Subaru, Mercedes, and Toyota made vehicles available at a lashing station where workers demonstrated how to properly secure and unsecure cars from ro-ro carriers or flatbeds.

Longshore workers visited each station at the rodeo to practice each activity. One station challenged them to operate a CASE CX30C Mini Excavator around a course and then lead it up a ramp between two containers to simulate the tight turns and spaces needed to maneuver when loading or discharging rolling stock on the deck of a ro-ro carrier. Trainers from manufacturers including CNH Industrial, LBX Company, JLG Industries, and others taught the longshore workers side by side during the rodeo, according to a statement from the port.

This was year 23 for the rodeo, which is produced cooperatively by the Maryland Department of Transportation's (MDOT's) Maryland Port Administration (MPA), the International Longshoremen’s Association, and the Steamship Trade Association. The concept was born out of the port’s quality cargo handling action team, where stakeholders help to implement best practices for safety, efficiency, and damage-free cargo handling.

Contact Janet Nodar at and follow her on Twitter: @janet_nodar.