A crime watchdog agency’s hearings on New York-New Jersey port labor practices will echo in the next round of longshore contract negotiations.
Terminal operators told the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor they plan to address inefficiencies the commission highlighted in a series of hearings. The commission contends excess staffing, no-show jobs and favoritism in hiring drive up costs and invite organized crime influence.
Video: The ILA's Daggett on Waterfront Commission, Port Worker Pay at NY-NJ.
“It is at the bargaining table we’ll have an opportunity to talk about some of the things that add to the cost of doing business in the port,” said Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, which represents employers in negotiations with the ILA.
Commission officials grilled Curto and New York-New Jersey terminal operators about testimony that ILA shop stewards and timekeepers collect pay for hours not worked, and that several timekeepers are paid for as much as 27 hours a day. One timekeeper said he was paid $464,000 last year for 25 hours of daily pay.
Employers concede some waterfront work and pay arrangements may not make sense but say many have developed over decades and can’t be changed unilaterally.
“People way before my time and way above my pay grade have made these decisions that have evolved over time,” said Charles Darrell, vice president at Port Newark Container Terminal.
Podcast: Q&A: Waterfront Commission Hearings on NY-NJ Labor Practices.
In the give-and-take of collective bargaining, negotiators focus on issues that offer the best yield, Curto said. ”They pick the ones they can get the most meat out of, and I can only make the assumption that over the years, other things have gotten more attention,” he said.
He said employers discussed the port’s competitiveness among U.S. ports with the ILA in preparation for negotiations on a contract to replace the one that expires Sept. 30, 2012. “They realize we have to make improvements on productivity,” he said.
Curto said an NYSA consultant’s report recently confirmed what employers already knew: that New York-New Jersey’s costs are higher than those of East Coast competitors.
One reason, he said, is ILA work jurisdiction is more extensive in New York-New Jersey than in ports such as Philadelphia, where non-ILA machinists repair cranes, or South Atlantic ports where non-union state workers operate cranes and perform container yard and gate work.
Benefits costs also are higher. Curto said New York-New Jersey benefits costs average $28 per man-hour, compared with $13 at other East Coast ports. He said the bi-state port’s ILA pension plan is underfunded by $750 million, and pension contributions absorb about half of the $200 million carriers pay in cargo assessments that average $80 a box.
Waterfront Commissioner Ronald Goldstock suggested the port might handle more business if it ended inefficient labor practices. Because of relief or backup staffing requirements in the ILA’s New York-New Jersey contract, 40 percent of dockworkers’ hours paid are for hours not worked, he has noted.
Sidebar: Commission Weathers Attacks.
Goldstock noted a shop steward at Maher terminals was charged last month with theft and falsifying records for allegedly collecting pay when he wasn’t working. He said the commission is investigating several dozen port workers for allegations of no-show jobs. He said such investigations are difficult and time-consuming, often requiring months of surveillance to obtain ironclad evidence.
Commission officials have emphasized family and other connections between the mob and ILA members in high-paying jobs. A chart displayed at the hearings showed nearly a dozen relatives of the late Genovese crime boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante work for waterfront companies and that several others have held high-paying ILA jobs over the years.
Ralph Gigante, a nephew of the late crime boss, testified he will collect $400,000 this year for 168 hours a week of pay as an ILA shop steward, a position previously held by Andrew Gigante, son of the late Mafia boss. Ralph Gigante has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Terminal operators bristled at what they saw as suggestions that mobsters dominate the port. “There is no goddamn organized crime influence on the day-to-day decisions we make, in any way, shape or form,” said James Devine, chief executive of GCT USA, which owns Global Terminal and New York Container Terminal.
Sabato Catucci, CEO of American Stevedoring in Brooklyn, told the commission it should stick to fighting organized crime and stay out of collective bargaining. “I don’t like the idea that the Waterfront Commission wants to run my business. That’s what you guys want to do,” he said. “If you want to run my business, buy me out and take me over and you try to get more productivity out of the port.”
Contact Joseph Bonney at email@example.com.