BALTIMORE -- Union longshoremen at the Port of Baltimore worked substantially fewer hours during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and union officials say the impact, while significant, would have been much greater if membership in the International Longshoremen's Association had not been severely restricted.

But union leaders predict business will begin picking up in the coming months as the dollar's drop helps increase exports.

About 2,300 members of the International Longshoremen's Association worked slightly less than 3.1 million hours, an almost 9 percent drop from the previous year and the largest decline in three years, according to the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore. Longshoremen worked fewer hours than they have at any time since 1947.

Based on a 40-hour work week and a 2,080-hour work year, the drop is comparable to the loss of 144 full-time jobs. Since 1980, man-hours at the port have been cut almost in half from 5.8 million.

Entrance to the union has been severely limited in recent years, and 197 members took advantage of early retirement incentives last year.

Miles Maguire, spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, said, "I think everybody recognizes that there is a problem and we hope this is the down point."

William J. Detweiler, president of the association, said, "It seems the trend of the past year is not declining. It seems to have stabilized."

Detweiler was referring to a leveling off and, in some cases, slight increases in man-hours worked in the recent months.