International Longshoremen’s Association official Harold Daggett said there’s nothing wrong with off-contract deals that the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor says provide favored dockworkers with high pay for relatively little work as ILA shop stewards and timekeepers.
“I wish all the members earned more than $400,000,” Daggett testified in a Waterfront Commission hearing. “These guys work their asses off out there.”
Daggett, the ILA’s executive vice president and head of the union’s 1,500-member New Jersey maintenance Local 1804-1, is a leading contender to become president of the East and Gulf coast dockworker union next year. He testified along with officials of the New York-New Jersey port’s other ILA locals in the fifth in a series of commission hearings on waterfront pay and practices.
At the start of Thursday’s hearing, Daggett insisted on reading a 10-minute statement criticizing the agency, created in 1954 to combat waterfront crime. “The Waterfront Commission treats us all like we are criminals,” he said. “Their main focus is on harassing our membership and beefing up their numbers. … This is the closest thing to Communism that you will see in the United States of America.” At another point he likened commission practices to “McCarthyism or SS all over again.”
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Commissioner Ron Goldstock said previous hearings documented non-contract pay agreements that “funnel huge amounts of money to a privileged few and as a consequence adversely affect the ability of the port to be competitive.” Goldstock noted that about a dozen relatives of the late Genovese crime boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante hold lucrative jobs on the waterfront, including ILA shop steward positions at the port’s three largest terminals.
Daggett defended Ralph Gigante, a nephew of the late crime boss. Ralph Gigante, a Local 1804-1 shop steward at Port Newark Maintenance & Repair, testified at a previous hearing that he is paid for 168 hours a week, mostly at overtime rates, and expects to collect about $400,000 this year.
Ralph Gigante has never been accused of criminality and shouldn’t be blamed for his uncle’s crimes, Daggett said. “As far as I’m concerned he’s a fine shop steward,” Daggett said. “If his name was Schwartz, would you be talking about Mr. Schwartz the way you’re talking about Gigante?”
Daggett and other ILA officials disputed Goldstock’s suggestion that shop stewards who receive high-paying jobs through inside connections are less inclined to jeopardize their positions by aggressively pursuing members’ grievances.
“A shop steward should not be criticized for not having grievances go to arbitration,” Daggett said. “We have good labor relations in our port and the majority of our grievances are settled at the pier level.”
Employers say off-contract deals that pay some ILA timekeepers for up to 27 hours a day reflect longstanding customs and practices that can’t be changed without negotiation. ILA officials agreed with employers’ testimony that when benefits are included, it probably costs no more to pay one person for 24 hours than to hire three at eight hours apiece.
Daggett indicated he’ll try to see that the union’s next contract specifies that 24-hour pay is permissible. “I will definitely put it in the contract for everybody to be protected,” he said.
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