Truckers, longshoremen and other workers waited for hours yesterday as they attempted to secure a federal identification card without which they cannot get to their jobs in the port of Baltimore.
A top port official said the problem stemmed in part from a three-week computer outage that delayed issuance of the cards by a contractor for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
Yesterday afternoon, more than 100 workers - many of whom said they had been cooling their heels since as early as 6 a.m. - crowded into the closed cafeteria of an office building in Southeast Baltimore waiting for news on when they might be allowed upstairs to pick up their federally required Transportation Workers Identification Credentials.
Many workers said they were losing money as they waited for cards they had applied for months ago. Several said the scene at the TWIC program's second-floor offices was so chaotic that police and the fire marshal were called and ordered many workers to wait downstairs.
"This is like a holding cell to get upstairs," said David Day of Glen Burnie, owner and operator of a tractor-trailer. "I came in here to get the card, and they said they're unable to process any cards at the time because the computer system's been down."
Day said he had been waiting since 7:20 a.m. on his fourth attempt to pick up his TWIC card, a biometric identification being issued by the TSA at the direction of Congress to protect ports and other transportation infrastructure from potential threats.
The federal government is requiring any individual seeking entry to a secure transportation facility to display such a card as of Dec. 30. Maryland officials said they felt they needed to set yesterday as a "soft" deadline to identify any problems in meeting the federal deadline.
Maryland Port Administration Director James White said he had requested a delay in the Dec. 30 deadline because of the computer problems on the federal end but was denied by the TSA.
"I'm disappointed that the computers went down and there wasn't a rollback," White said.
At the Point Breeze industrial park on Broening Highway yesterday, those who did not yet have their cards were referred to a nearby "vetting station" to be issued temporary passes. According to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, about 300 port workers received temporary IDs good for 29 days.
Others waited at the industrial park hoping to get their long-sought permanent passes.
Many in the mostly blue-collar group expressed anger toward the TSA, part of the Department of Homeland Security, and its contractor for the TWIC program, Lockheed Martin Corp.
"This is all about money. They're getting their money," said Pablo Torres, a Glen Burnie truck driver who had been waiting since 6:30 a.m.
Like others who had paid the $132.50 cost of the card months ago, Torres said the contractor was giving priority to new applicants from whom Lockheed had not yet collected the fee.
"I paid for my card. I want my card," he said, adding that he was losing $400 to $500 a day in pay while waiting for a card approved three months ago.
Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the state had been assured that Lockheed would see that there was a "surge" in its capacity to process cards in connection with the state deadline.
"We saw no evidence of it," he said.
But Anna Di Paola, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, insisted that the company was adequately staffed. "We did prepare for it. We did increase capacity ahead of today," she said.
Lauren Gaches, a TSA spokeswoman, said Lockheed had opened a second location to process cards.
But William Rhinehart of Lansdowne, a longshoreman who has been trying to get his TWIC card since April, expressed disgust at the treatment.
"They wonder why you're mad. They treat you like you're nobody," he said.