Maritime and union workers in Maryland are mourning the loss of Robert “Bobby” Pomerlane, whose all-consuming dedication to the trade union movement and the Port of Baltimore helped preserve their job security. He was 87 years old when he passed away April 9.
The longtime secretary-treasurer of the Baltimore Port Maritime Council at the time of his death, Pomerlane was part of a committed coalition of local politicians, trade unionists, business people and community activists who pushed for policies that have enabled Baltimore to remain a top-tier port at a time when other historic facilities failed to keep pace.
A retired assistant vice president for the Seafarers International Union, Pomerlane sailed in the U.S.-flag merchant marine during World War II. “With Bobby covering the waterfront, the union didn’t have anything to worry about,” said MTD President Michael Sacco, who also heads the SIU. “When they made him, they broke the mold.”
He was a boxer’s boxer (he fought as a heavyweight), a seaman’s seaman and a trade unionist’s trade unionist. Known for his fierce loyalty, Pomerlane was “SIU all the way,” recalled Augustin Tellez, SIU Executive Vice President and MTD Executive Board Member. “He lived and breathed the Port of Baltimore.”
“Bobby was a hard-nosed guy, but he had a heart as big as he is,” remembered Baltimore PMC President Dion Guthrie. “There was no middle of the road with Bobby. He either liked you or he didn’t. And if he liked you, there wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for you.”
Pomerlane gave maritime labor a highly visible presence in one of the nation’s most important port cities. He was a force of nature who was involved with Baltimore politics. Whether it was the late Maryland Governor and Mayor of Baltimore William Donald Schaeffer (D) or U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley (R-MD), the president of a local union or a community activist, Pomerlane was known as a “go-to guy” for maritime in the Charm City. He is survived by his wife, Nicole, and a brother, Toby Valmas.