At the start of what is usually the busiest stretch of months for longshoremen in the Port of Baltimore, two found themselves on barstools at The Muddy Beaver weighing their options for the next several months over bottles of beer.

Joseph Conrad and his friend, a longshoreman who didn’t want to be named, are relatively low in the pecking order in the local union of workers who load and unload cargo ships at the Port of Baltimore. The job of longshoremen, or stevedores, is among the oldest in the world. Modern dock workers now operate cranes and forklifts, but their jobs remain physically demanding and risky.

They both come from families full of longshoremen — siblings, parents, cousins, in-laws — but haven’t yet built up the precious hours that dictate their pay and seniority.

“We’re scared,” Conrad said plainly as he contemplated his car payments and other bills, amid an indefinite work stoppage caused by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Early Tuesday morning, the massive cargo vessel Dali struck one of the footings of the steel truss bridge, causing it to collapse in seconds into the Patapsco River. The ship and the wreckage of the bridge remain in the water, cutting off passage into the various docks that comprise the Port of Baltimore. Officials have said it could be many months before ships can safely transit the port again.

Until then, no new ship traffic means no cargo to load or unload for the foreseeable future apart from a trickle of work that remains from the few ships that were in port when the bridge collapsed.

“We will have a couple days of delivering the cargo and receiving the cargo,” said Scott Cowan, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333. “That will run out quickly.”

The suspension of shipping traffic in and out of the port is directly impacting thousands of jobs and about $2 million in wages every day, said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday. Last year, the port handled more than 50 million tons of foreign cargo worth $80 billion, according to state officials. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said about 8,000 dock workers would be affected.

For the 2,400 workers in the local union, the immediate impact of the collapse could be “catastrophic,” Cowan said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Asked what he’s going to do now, Conrad quipped, “you’re looking at it.”

The Muddy Beaver is a genial sports bar with a pool table and stout sound system in Sparrows Point, near the distribution centers for companies like Home Depot, Under Armour and Amazon. On Tuesday, it became a convenient place for dock workers to digest the news consuming their city.

Conrad said members were notified they will receive some pay in the coming weeks, a fraction of what they would normally make. He plans to pick up work delivering food for DoorDash.

State lawmakers are crafting legislation to provide financial aid to workers and businesses impacted by the shutdown of the port. Led by Sen. Bill Ferguson and Del. Luke Clippinger, the legislation seeks to provide income replacement for workers and contractors, as well as financial incentives for businesses to remain in Baltimore rather than relocate.

Conrad’s friend looked at his job security this way:

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I’m a temp worker,” he said.

As a newbie, he is always among the last to be called for work. The port has to be full of ships and flooded with cargo before he gets any hours. The more he works, the more seniority he earns and the more work he gets called for. He is expecting to gain no traction this fiscal year, he said.

As they scrolled their phones at their schedules for the coming weeks and months, the two longshoremen saw the same words, “to be determined.” They were expecting to be flooded with work this month, but now that busy spring had suddenly disappeared.

Conrad worked the night shift on March 25 as part of the second-to-last shift of workers to load containers onto the Dali. He was among a handful of crews, called gangs, working the docks that night. Conrad said he heard the ship had arrived later than planned because of engine issues, so the crew was keen to depart as soon as they could.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“In my mind, they were rushing,” he said.

He didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last pay he would earn for a while. Once loaded, the Dali almost immediately departed. Within less than an hour, it hit the Key Bridge.

Conrad woke up early Tuesday, hours after the bridge had collapsed. As he took in the news, he thought to himself, “I’m fucked.”

Near the end of night, he had another decision to make.

“One more?” the bartender asked.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Conrad nodded.

Baltimore Banner reporter Giacomo Bologna contributed to this report.

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

More From The Banner