Baltimore Longshoreman on the Key Bridge Collapse: “It’s not surprising that this ship lost power.”

Veteran longshoreman John Blom on the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the slow recovery ahead for port workers.

Maximillian Alvarez

Crews conduct a controlled demolition of a section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge resting on the Dali container ship in Baltimore on May 13, 2024. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major transit route into the busy port of Baltimore, collapsed on March 26 when the Dali container ship lost power and collided into a support column, killing six roadway construction workers. ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Read the full transcript below.

Nearly two months have passed since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, and the city is still reeling from the disaster. The bridge collapse immediately rendered the Port of Baltimore inoperable, threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs, and billions in wages, business revenue, and state taxes. While channels into the port have begun to open back up slowly, workers on the waterfront have been deeply affected, and the road to recovery will be long. As questions linger about the root causes of the Key Bridge collapse and what sort of future Baltimore can salvage for itself, TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez and Marc Steiner, host of The Marc Steiner Show, team up to speak with John Blom, a veteran longshoreman who worked in the Port of Baltimore for over 30 years, to get a workers’ history of the port and its meaning to the city it nurtured.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

John Blom: Hi, my name is John Blom. I was a longshoreman in the Port of Baltimore for 35 years prior to my retirement in October of 2012. We held all kinds of little jobs of all different varieties. I worked as a short order cook to a forklift operator to a chauffeur. You name it, I did it. Clerk typist, lifeguard. I did all kinds of jobs before I came on the waterfront, and 35 years ago I came on the waterfront.

Maximilian Alvarez: All right, welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network produced by Jules Taylor and made possible by the support of listeners like you. 

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My name is Maximilian Alvarez. I’m the host of Working People and Editor in Chief here at The Real News Network.

Just last year, the Port of Baltimore created around 15,300 direct jobs with nearly 140,000 jobs overall linked to port activities.

Marc Steiner: I’m Marc Steiner, host of the Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News, and it’s a pleasure to be here with my friend and colleague, Max Alvarez.

Maximilian Alvarez: Hell yeah, baby. I am really excited to be co-hosting this special episode with my man Marc Steiner. This is the podcast crossover that everyone’s been waiting for and this will not be the last time that we team up here on the show and elsewhere at The Real News. You can be sure of that. It has been a month and a half since a freight ship that had just left the Port of Baltimore slammed into the iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge on the morning of March 26th. As we know, six immigrant construction workers who were working a night shift on the bridge at the time and who did not receive a mayday warning from the ship or emergency dispatch lost their lives when the bridge collapsed.

The impact of this catastrophe on the families, friends, coworkers, and communities of those workers is impossible to quantify and they will be dealing with this devastating loss for the rest of their lives. But the bridge collapse has also had wide ranging and devastating impacts on fellow workers in the Port of Baltimore itself and in the regional economy. As Dominique Philippe August reported for Baltimore’s ABC affiliate, just last year, the Port of Baltimore created around 15,300 direct jobs with nearly 140,000 jobs overall linked to port activities. Those jobs generated nearly 3.3 billion in personal wages and salaries, $2.6 billion in business revenue and nearly $400 million in state and local tax revenue annually, according to the Maryland Port Administration. 

Today, as part of our continuing coverage of the causes and impacts of the Key Bridge collapse, we’re going to zoom in on the waterfront and we’re going to get a veteran Longshore worker’s view on all of this, and we are honored to have John Blom with us on the show today.

Marc Steiner: Like Max said, today, we’ll continue to explore the aftermath of that disastrous and deadly collapse of the Key Bridge right here in Baltimore. It left six workers dead. It’s a critically important story that crippled the livelihoods of over 15,000 workers whose lives are tied to that port of Baltimore, along with another 140,000 workers whose jobs have also been affected. The Port is now just beginning to open up, but there’s going to be a long road to recover from starting now. I’m excited to have my old friend and comrade, John Blom here with us today. He spent 30 years on those docks as longshoreman and leader of the union.

Maximilian Alvarez: And I’m so grateful to Marc for connecting me with John, and I’m so grateful John to you for being here with us on the show today. I have so many things I want to ask you about, but to just get us started, I really wanted to just take the next few minutes and ask like we do here on the show every week, if we could just hear from you a bit more about your life and work on the waterfront. I mean, so many of us have no idea what that day-to-day work looks like, and you of course have spent a full career living and working on the waterfront and you’ve seen things change over recent decades. So I wanted to ask if you could just take us and our listeners there for the next few minutes, tell us a bit more about how you came to work at the waterfront, what being a longshore worker in the port of Baltimore was like during your time there and how you saw the job itself and the conditions that people are working under change over the years.

“You are just as likely to work on a Sunday night as you are to work on a Tuesday morning, and you really never know in advance.”

John Blom: Well, it changed quite a bit during the course of my career as a longshoreman. It’s not like a regular 40 hour a week job. You are just as likely to work on a Sunday night as you are to work on a Tuesday morning, and you really never know in advance for the vast majority of the people who work on the waterfront. That was certainly my case. I did not have a regular job for quite a number of years and before I ended up being a union official as a longshore worker, you load and unload vessels. That’s what a longshoreman does. You unload and unload ships and as everything from automobiles to sacks of sugar to boxes of bananas to mobile cranes. And your job is to either take em on the ship or get em off the ship as quickly and as efficiently as you can.

Like I said, you’re not guaranteed anything except for an opportunity to try and work. So certainly one of my first reactions when I saw the bridge collapse was, Oh my, there’s going to be a lot of people who are going to be out of work for a long time here,” and because you’re not guaranteed anything, they’re not guaranteed anything. Everything on the waterfront goes by the number of hours you work, so you accumulate health insurance based on the number of hours. There’s an A plan and a B plan, and if you don’t make 700 hours in a year, you don’t get any health insurance whatsoever. Same thing with a pension. You have to make a thousand hours worth of credit in order to qualify for a pension year. And same thing with holiday pay, so you’re not guaranteed anything. When I first started on the waterfront, it was all hands free, it was all boxes, bales, drums, that kind of stuff.

Maximilian Alvarez: And John, can you just for our listeners there, so when we’ve talked to fellow longshore workers, they’ve talked to us a bit about containerization, but I just wanted to quickly pause on that. For anyone listening who may not know what that means, if you could just quickly sum that up for them.

John Blom: Sure. So a container is 20 foot or 40 foot long, looks like the back of a tractor trailer basically, short ones or longer ones, and they have holes on each of the corners so you can stack them and secure em to each other and secure them to the decks of the ship. Prior to containers, everything was done by hand. So if you had, I don’t know, just to give an example, you had a load of bananas and I worked a lot moving a lot of bananas during the course of my career. Now they’re loaded up in the country that the bananas grow in into these containers and the containers as one lift go right onto the ship. So before, a banana boat would be in port for 14 hours and you’d basically work from 8:00 AM to midnight to unload all the bananas.

Now that same thing could be done with about a third of the number of workers in about a third of the amount of time. So it was a huge difference. Prior to longshore, workers would work in groups called gangs, and the gang when I was in in the mid to late seventies was 21 people per gang. Now with containerization, the international union saw that there was no way you were going to stop this from happening, so how best to compensate people? And there was a program called the Guaranteed Annual Income Program that came into effect and it went into effect coast wide, but in Baltimore it never paid anybody anything.

That changed when I led some people into picket lines and press conferences and everything, trying to figure out why it wasn’t paying off and making sure it was because folks were working a lot and then they stopped and there was very little work to be done. So that’s what the Guaranteed Annual Income Program was. The work crews went from 21 to 17 and the guaranteed annual income was the sweetener for the longshore person that wasn’t working, so that they would not suffer too greatly from containerization. Anyway, in the Port of Baltimore, after some significant effort, it began to pay off and it paid off for a number of years. Slowly it became less and less prevalent and management realized what was going on, decided to offer folks a buyout of that program. Now, at the point where they offered the buyout, there were not that many people collecting the guaranteed annual income or GAI was called. And actually there was a discussion to measure an opposed buyout. There was a discussion at the union meeting. I actually remember standing up at the union meeting and saying to folks, Folks, this is sort of, think of this as the fire insurance at your house that you probably have never had a fire at your house. Hopefully you never will. Maybe your neighbors never had either, but if there happens to be one, it’s a really good thing to have insurance and you should think about this program like that.”

There were a number of people who had not collected any money and the senior guys were watching some of the younger people collect money and not work, and here they were working for it. And so there was some resentment between members of the union. Anyway, they voted to take this buyout.

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Maximilian Alvarez: Well, if I can, I want to toss it to Marc in a sec talking about how this is all means for how we interpret the bridge collapse. But I guess just by one more quick question by way of getting us there, what does all of this say for, again, folks out there who have no idea what it’s like to work on the waterfront and have no idea what you and your coworkers and fellow union members have been experiencing over the past few decades? What did these things that you’re telling us about the containerization, the guaranteed income, the buyout, what are these signs of, in terms of the larger shifts in the shipping industry that you think folks out there are not seeing?

John Blom: Well, everything prior to containerization was done by hand. So if there were a hundred pound bags of sugar, you would be handling them in the hold of the ship, loading onto pallets and lift and having those pallets being high off the ship. Now all that stuff is in containers. 

Baltimore in particular has a lot of what’s called RoRo cargo, which is cargo that rolls on and rolls off of the back of these ships, and it’s actually the number one roll-on roll-off. So it’s automobiles, it’s farm tractors, it’s bulldozers, it’s mobile cranes, you name it, we handle it. So I’ve worked on everything, done everything from actually nuclear power plants to lots of drums, bales, boxes during the course of my working career. It was certainly physically more difficult, mainly earlier on, but it was certainly tiring. People made more hours, it was easier to make more hours because it was a lot of, we called it asses and elbows. That’s what it was, a lot of difficult work. And so like I said, if a ship came in with just bananas these days, it would be in and out of the port in four hours, whereas it was 14 hours in the past. Same thing with there were times where I worked a whole week loading or unloading a single ship. That never happens these days. If something lasts for a second day, it’s surprising.

So the number of hours, and like I said before, the hours depends on whether you have health insurance or a pension year, all that good stuff.

Marc Steiner: So a couple things I was really thinking about in terms of the disaster, you’re talking about containerization. This is a total aside. It made me think about when I was a kid, I used to hang at the docks a lot in Baltimore and I used to collect animals off of bananas: boa constrictions, monkeys, all kinds of stuff, shit like that in the bananas, I would take em home. 

“You went to sleep that night thinking that you’ll be at work tomorrow and next thing all of a sudden, no job, no work.”

Maximilian Alvarez: I still can’t believe you had a pet monkey in Baltimore because of that. 

Marc Steiner: I had a pet monkey and many boa constrictors, and it just made me think about how much the port has changed and how much the work has changed and how fewer men and women are working as longshoremen than before, and how that has just changed. And it changed in your lifetime when you started. 

What year did you start working at the port?

John Blom: I started working in the port in the beginning of 1977.

So at that point, as a junior person, I didn’t work on a container until probably two or three years into my working career, not even once, because that was a relatively cushy job and I got all the drums and bales and a hundred pound bags of sugar and all that good stuff. Now that none of that stuff is handled by hand anymore at this point. That’s the big thing about containerization, that it changed at the point of manufacture or the point of when it’s loaded onto this truck, it never has to be unloaded again until it gets to its destination. Whereas in the past it would have been, we loaded it onto the truck, brought it to the pier, unloaded it from the truck, loaded it onto the ship, unloaded it from the ship, then put it into a truck at this destination and then brought to its place. So you can just imagine the huge savings as far as the amount of labor is concerned, the amount of time concerned, that containerization made.

Baltimore, like I said, has a lot of automobiles in RoRo and they have not figured out how to mechanize that. So you still do physically drive all the equipment on and off and secure it, and that’s the harder part of the job is securing all this stuff with chains to make sure that when the ship hits rough weather, that one thing doesn’t end up on top of the other.

Marc Steiner: So I am curious about a couple of things here. One, when you first heard about the disaster happening and the ship just losing all of its power and hitting the bridge and knocking the bridge down, six workers killed or missing, what was your reaction? I know when you work a job, even if it’s not your job to inspect the ships or do any of that kind of work, you’re always talking about it. You’re always talking about what’s wrong, what’s right. So what were your first thoughts and when you saw this happen, but what went wrong? What the fuck happened?

John Blom: Certainly my first thoughts were, Oh my God, how many people have gotten killed who were on the bridge?” It’s pretty amazing that we tragically lost six people, but it could easily have been 46 or 66. So it was fortunate that it was sort of in the middle of the night and also that somehow the people on the ship were able to contact the proper authorities to stop more people from driving across the bridge when the ship actually hit it. 

My first thoughts were certainly towards the casualties that I figured there were quite a few, and luckily there were nowhere near as many as I had initially feared. But my second thought was, Oh my God, there’s nobody who’s going to be coming in and out of the port of Baltimore for months.” And some people, some when they get a dollar in their pocket, spend a dollar right away. Other people are a little bit more prudent and there are those who couldn’t be prudent because they didn’t have enough seniority, they would really be hurting.

Maximilian Alvarez: Well, let’s talk about that a little bit, John, because I think this is again, why it’s so important to do this follow-up coverage, even if the initial frenzy of media coverage has passed away, we’re used to this in every story that we cover. It’s the same thing with the train derailment in East Palestine. Everyone’s covering it for about a month and everyone leaves and the disaster stays. So this is par for the course, and there’s so much devastation that is being felt now and is going to be felt for months and after this, but we’re not talking about that because so few people are talking to people like you. And what we’re trying to do here with this coverage, and Marc and I are going to continue doing interviews like this, just get to the bottom of the Key Bridge collapse, the conditions that led to that sort of collapse, just like we’re looking at the conditions that are leading to us having over a thousand trained derailments in this country every single year, the conditions that are leading to Boeing planes falling out of the sky or BP oil spills happening on our coast.

We’re investigating this by talking to folks like you and fellow workers in the ports in construction on those ships to try to piece together on the ground view of a situation that I think we would all agree is reaching crisis levels. But what you’re talking about is a really key aspect of this, which is what is the bridge collapse going to mean for port workers, people on the waterfront and the broader economy? So pull on that thread even more. Tell us, tell our listeners what they are not seeing when they hear that, Oh, the port’s going to be shut down or traffic’s going to be slowed,” what does that mean for people like you and the people you work with now and in the long term?

John Blom: Well, certainly what it meant immediately was that there was no work that was going to be happening. No ships were you to go in and out of the port. Those who were there were stuck there and those who were trying to arrive. So it meant that basically unbeknownst to you, you woke up, you went to sleep that night thinking that you’ll be at work tomorrow and next thing all of a sudden, no job, no work. So that was certainly, I’m not sure exactly what more you’re trying to get at.

Marc Steiner: I mean this is because it was a disaster on the human side with workers. I mean, there were 15,000 direct jobs affected and 40,000 other jobs indirectly affected. I mean, this crippled a lot of people. And I was wondering, I was just thinking about you and your time as a union official, your time on the docks, if you were there right now, if you were still actively working on the docks in the union, think about that reality. What would you be doing? What are the fights going on now around that with the workers who’ve lost their jobs, who aren’t getting any money, who are stuck? The port is just about to reopen, right?

John Blom: So it’s like any other, anytime you reach any other type of crisis scenario, trying to do the best you can, trying to figure out what are you going to do? What can I do to support myself and my family, how can I pay my bills? That’s kind of what people were thinking about. And at this point, it looks like things will be relatively back to normal by the end of this month. And certainly there is some work that is beginning to happen now. There’s been some channels opened, not the complete one. You have to realize how big these ships are. These ships are enormous. They, they’re bigger than aircraft carriers. The ship that hit the bridge is the size of three football fields put on end to end to end had over 9,000 containers. So over 9,000 truckloads of cargo on the ship. And in the pictures, you can see the ones that are above deck but below deck, they’re eight deep below the decks. So there may be six or seven high above the deck, and there are eight deep below the deck. Those tremendous amounts of cargo that these ships hold, when I first came on the waterfront, a big ship would maybe hold like 200 containers. These hold multiple thousands.

Marc Steiner: So what you describe, it makes me think, I mean, how much things have changed both in terms of the size of the ship, the kind of deregulation of inspection and safety from your perspective, what are the things that have really led up to this disaster and how it has affected the workers themselves on the docks from your time?

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John Blom: For one thing, the shipping companies are paid by the people with the cargo to move containers from one place to another. The time they spend in the port, they’re not making any money. When they move the cargo from point A to point B, that’s when they make their money. It’s not surprising that this ship lost power and everything. It certainly happened to ships when I was on them, like working tied up in the dock because longshoremen work on the piers, they’re not seafarers. We don’t work on the ships as they’re moving up and down the coast.

And a lot of these companies have had a lot of consolidation. And so they’re chartering slots on various vessels. So this was not a Maersk line vessel, but it was the Maersk line that had chartered this ship. And to get something like that off of line in order to do any kind of repairs is tremendously costly because if they have to take it out of the water, they have to take all these containers off, go someplace on a dry dock. I mean, probably literally millions of dollars to do that. So they’re doing patch, patch, patch. And like I said, it was not super surprising to me that a ship lost power, it certainly happened during my time on the waterfront. And that’s part of the reality of the new world these days, that it’s a lot easier to just patch something rather than actually fix it the right way.

Maximilian Alvarez: Well, and John, what’s so wild to me is hearing what you just said and hearing the echoes of that in so many other industries that we talk about in so many other workers that we talk to, right? You already mentioned that the port of Baltimore is, I believe you said, the largest kind of port that is offloading and unloading from the rail yards. And this connects directly to the kind of years-long coverage we’ve been doing on the railroads. And one of the many things that workers, engineers, conductors, everyone working on or around the railroads has been telling us is like, Yeah, we’re going through the same thing. They have been cutting our staff cutting safety and maintenance measures year after year after year, reducing the number of people in the dispatch office, yada, yada, yada, reducing the amount of time that people have to check those cars because it’s so costly and expensive to say, this car needs extra repair.”

You got a bad car and send it to the machine shop to get it fixed. So from a managerial and corporate and Wall Street led perspective, you see the incentive throughout the supply chain to be telling workers to work faster with fewer people and chew their head off if they raise red flags when it comes to safety and maintenance measures. So eventually you’re going to get catastrophes like East Palestine where you also have these massive trains that have been getting longer and heavier over years carrying all these toxic cars, loads of materials bombing through people’s backyards, right? And so it kind of feels like a catastrophe is inevitable, but what’s going on in that industry is very much not unconnected to what you have been seeing and describing in your industry. 

And so I say that all to say one of the issues that connects these two struggles and that people have been asking us about is what that means for public safety when so much of that freight contains toxic material. There were over 50 containers on the dolly itself that had toxic materials. So I wanted to ask if you could give us some insight on that. What are the working conditions on the waterfront, the corporate consolidation in the shipping industry and the railroad industry and all that kind of stuff, what does that mean for workers like you and your coworkers in terms of public safety and the handling of toxic materials and how seriously we are taking that task?

John Blom: So when you are working on these ships, especially nowadays with containerization, you don’t really know what’s in them. I mean, the hazardous hazmat things have little stickers on em and say what it is, but unless you were carrying a cheat sheet with, you’d really have no idea what it was. It’d be useful for the fire department should they have to respond to an emergency, but you don’t really know what you’re handling. You’re handling all kinds of stuff and every once in a while you get a clue of something that was really valuable because they’d have armor. They literally have an armored car waiting, watching the container come on or off the ship and going with it. So I wonder, was it in that one? No, you don’t really know. I mean, certainly work on the waterfront was much more interesting when I first started in that you knew what you were handling, but these days, if you work on a container ship, you have no clue what you’re handling.

Marc Steiner: So I wonder how you’ve seen things change. Let’s stick with that for a moment. How have things changed drastically on the docks from when you started? The image of a longshore person is like big, burly guys. They’ve got heavy stuff to lift. All these things have changed on many levels. How have they changed that way? How have they changed in terms of safety, how have they changed in terms of what the union can do or can’t do to protect its workers in the dock? 

Because I remember when you were in the union, I mean when you were really active in the union, you were among the lead fighters making sure the workers were safe. How has it changed? Did this disaster bring some of that to light?

John Blom: Yeah, I can’t say that this really brought a lot of that to light. I mean, it’s changed tremendously and there were a lot more injuries back in the old days, but there were a lot more things like cold muscles and those kinds of things. Now everything is tons and tons of stuff. There’s no light stuff. And so any accident that does happen is much more serious, or it tends to be much more serious. I watched a couple of people lose their lives during my working career on the waterfront, and that’s difficult. I watched the person who was my boss, who I’d worked with for quite a number of years, get run over by a forklift and killed.

One of the things that happened after 9/11 is that Customs and Border Patrol decided we had to start X-raying containers. And while this was happening, while I was vice president of local, I think, but what they were doing was these mobile X-ray machines we’re on wheels, and what they were asking our workers to do was to drive through these X-rays. I wondered about that and it was like, hmm, I know when I go to the dentist before I go to do anything too far as dental, they’ll put a lead shield over top of me. The person taking the X-rays will leave the room. And here they were telling Longshore the drivers who were driving containers that they had to drive through this X-ray x-ray machine and was, you can imagine it was quite a bit more powerful than a dental and that it went through a metal container and through whatever was inside the container.

And it was actually a picture that was circulated around of a skeleton driving a container through. Anyway, so I took this to the international union and they changed the practice where, hey, we would have people park the truck close to where this mobile X-ray machine was and have the driver get out and stand safely away. They do the X-ray and check out what was in the container, what was the manifest, and then the person would get off and drive it off. So it was actually one of the things that I was able to accomplish actually as a union official. And I believe I probably saved quite a few lives, honestly, from cancers, from radiation.

“[Doing] any kind of repairs is tremendously costly because certainly if they have to take [the ship] out of the water, they have to take all these containers off, go someplace on a dry dock. I mean, probably literally millions of dollars to do that.”

Marc Steiner: I mean, it seems also just one quick thing here, thinking about what just happened on the Port, the disaster and what you’ve seen over those 30 years on the docks about the size of the vessels getting larger, getting fewer and fewer inspections on the boats and the flaws in the construction of the bridge itself. And all that has to do with lack of regulation, cutting back on regulations that have to do with worker safety. How have you seen that change in your time? I’m curious. I mean, I guess most of the guys that you probably worked with all retired too. 

John Blom: No,a bunch are still there. Quite a number of em are still there, but I certainly don’t know everybody, which at the point when I retired, I knew everybody and they all knew me, but when I first started, the ships were way smaller, way, way smaller. The largest ships when they built the Key Bridge were about a third of the size of the dolly. That was the largest ship. And so I’m not sure that at the time that they built the Key Bridge that that was irresponsible. I don’t think anybody really anticipated the ships being as large as they are now. I certainly didn’t.

Maximilian Alvarez: It’s just like we said, this has been coming up in conversation with folks about this, even if it wasn’t sort of active deregulation affecting your industry, deregulation has affected the ports and from different sides even to the point of how many of these are under flag of convenience? How big are these ships? How often do they have to be inspected?

So really the question is just like, are there other signs that you saw working on the waterfront of this sort of trend that has led us to where we are now, where the ships are so large and crews are so small and all that kind of stuff? Any other kind of signs like that that you saw even secondhand being there on the waterfront?

John Blom: Well, certainly the consolidation of, just like in every other industry, consolidation of the waterfront. And so there are a lot more companies, so there were quite a number of different things, but we didn’t really, ships were not inspected that we saw very often at all. Customs would go on to a ship, but I don’t know, they would actually, I don’t know if I actually saw anybody actually investing in checking out the ships themselves. It was much more checking out the cargo or checking on whether the crew was trying to smuggle whatever drugs or whatever into the United States. I didn’t really witness them actually inspecting the ships themselves. Now that the cranes that work at the port get inspected on a regular basis, and there are certainly people who are on top of that.

Maximilian Alvarez: And again, we’re going to keep investigating this. We’re going to keep talking to folks like John who have spent their lives working in and around the port of Baltimore, try to give you guys this kind of panoramic view of this port, the activity there, the conditions that workers on in different parts of it are working under how that affects us, what we as working people can do to improve this situation and try to not only take better care of our fellow workers who are there on the waterfront, who are there filling potholes on bridges like the Key Bridge, let alone workers like the ones who are still stuck on that ship and to say nothing of other seafaring workers whose voices need and deserve to be heard. So I promise y’all listening, this is just the beginning. We’re going to keep on this and we’re going to keep talking to more incredible folks like John and learning everything that we can from them.

And John, I really wanted to thank you for giving us this time and giving us your insight and sharing it so generously with us. And I know we only got you for a few more minutes here, so I wanted to just sort of zoom out for a second, even beyond the kind of Key Bridge collapse and the devastation that is left in its wake and the effects that workers, particularly in the port of Baltimore are currently feeling and are going to be feeling for some time. I wanted to ask just like as someone who has been fighting for and representing Longshore workers here in Baltimore for so long, what message do you have for folks listening to this about just what workers in that industry in this union are going through in general, what we can all do to be more invested in that and help workers who need it and stand in solidarity with our fellow workers on the waterfront? Any sort of bigger points about this industry, about the men and women who make it run that you really want to share with folks who haven’t spent decades in that industry? 

It’s a hard industry to get a hold of because you’re doing all kinds of things, but the work is interesting. You do all kinds of work, you handle all kinds of things. You’re not like an assembly line. You’re not doing the exact same thing every day. You can be doing all different kinds of things, and so it keeps it interesting. You’re also working with different people every day primarily, so you’re not working with the same group of folks, and so you get a sense of a broad spectrum of humanity.

I’m just curious, in the time we have, about what you’ve heard, what do you think is going on with the men and women who work in that port as longshoremen and what they’re going through now and how they’re surviving? Because when, I mean the Longshore Union is union that fought and fought and fought for their workers to make a really, really decent wage, great benefits built families, were part of the core of building a middle class in Baltimore along with the steel workers, but what are you hearing from folks about what’s going on with em now? How are they faring through this? What are the struggles like?

“There are a lot of people who depend upon the Port of Baltimore who are not unionized.”

John Blom: Well, I think that they’re hanging in. I think they’re hanging in and the end is in sight. I think today they’re having a couple of ships that have not been in the port show up, so that’s a good thing. People will gradually be getting back to work, and I’m sure by the end of May there will be quite a number of people who are back to work. So then it’s a matter of, because everything is done by hours there, the union is going to have to do some negotiating with management about that. People would get credit for some hours, do some kind of a formula where people get credit so they don’t lose pension years, for instance, or lose their A plan and better insurance, CRA plan insurance for the family because they spent a couple of months without working. I think that’s the biggest challenge right now for people who are working in the industry. But that’s the longshoreman. We’re unionized. There are a lot of people who depend upon the Port of Baltimore who are not unionized, who work in warehouses and do all kinds of other things, and they’re certainly not getting any compensation or anything like that. So it was a big blow. I think it was millions of dollars per day for the state of Maryland. The state of Maryland was losing by not having that cargo flowing through the port.

Maximilian Alvarez: All right, gang, that’s going to wrap things up for us this week. I want to thank our wonderful guest, John Blom. I want to thank my colleague and comrade Marc Steiner for co-hosting this episode with me. And as always, I want to thank you all for listening and I want to thank you for caring. We’re going to keep building out our coverage on the causes and human impacts of the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse and our discussions about what we can all do to make sure catastrophes like this don’t happen again. So please stay tuned for that and we will see y’all back here next week for another episode of Working People. If you can’t wait that long, then go subscribe to our Patreon and check out the awesome bonus episodes we’ve got there for our patrons. And please go explore all the great work that we are doing at The Real News Network where we do grassroots journalism that lifts up voices and stories from the front lines of struggle. Sign up for The Real News newsletter so you never miss a story and help us do more work like this by going to the real​news​.com/​d​onate and becoming a supporter today. It really makes a difference. I’m Maximilian Alvarez. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other, solidarity forever.

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Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe​se​Times​.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.

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