Stories of mob connections, excess staffing and $400,000-a-year dockworker pay at the New York-New Jersey port got a fresh airing from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor just days before the start of negotiations on a coastwide longshore labor contract.
The Waterfront Commission report summarized hearings the crime watchdog agency held in late 2010. It said outmoded longshore hiring, work and pay practices invite organized crime influence, weaken union democracy and hurt the port’s competitiveness.
Forty percent of the hours paid to New York-New Jersey dockworkers are for hours not worked. Off-contract “customs and practices” provide some ILA shop stewards and timekeepers to be paid 24/7, mostly at overtime rates. A few timekeepers are on the clock for up to 27 hours a day.
The Waterfront Commission urged the industry to eliminate “no-work and no-show positions generally characterized by outsized salaries. The privileged few that are given those jobs are overwhelmingly connected to organized crime figures or union officials.”
The commission’s unsolicited advice didn’t thrill the New York Shipping Association, which represents carriers, terminal operators and other commercial waterfront interests. NYSA President Joseph Curto agreed many of the questioned work and pay practices date from the breakbulk era and are illogical and indefensible. But he said they could be curtailed only through the give-and-take of collective bargaining.
Previous negotiations have ended guaranteed annual income, added flexibility in work assignments and established tiered wages, Curto noted. “However, an area that remains to be addressed is the one highlighted by the Waterfront Commission report: excessive staffing and overtime payments that can no longer be sustained or rationalized,” he said.
“We will address those issues during labor negotiations as part of a smart business plan, not because the Waterfront Commission thinks we should,” Curto said. “The public policy of the United States calls for collective bargaining to be conducted by the private parties involved without governmental interference.”
Negotiators from the ILA and United States Maritime Alliance met in Tampa last week to open negotiations on a coastwide master contract to replace the six-year pact that expires Sept. 30. The NYSA-ILA contract supplements the coastwide agreement and covers local work rules and benefits.
The Waterfront Commission hearings and report have aggravated the already strained relationship between the commission, created in 1953 to combat port racketeering, and the shipping industry it regulates.
Since a leadership and staff housecleaning that followed a critical New York State Inspector General’s report in 2009, the commission has publicized mob connections in the ILA and pushed the union and NYSA to hire more women and minorities. The ILA and NYSA contend the commission is intruding into collective bargaining. The commission says its role includes promotion of fair hiring practices.
The commission’s report on its 2010 hearings highlighted pay of $400,000 or more to appointed ILA shop stewards with family connections to mobsters and quoted testimony that showed the stewards rarely file grievances on behalf of members.
“When shop stewards fail to carry out their duties, workers are unable to assert their duly acquired rights,” the report said. “Shop stewards are conferred a large amount of responsibility, yet the hearings uncovered what appears to be widespread ignorance, neglect, undemocratic practices and organized crime connections.”
The three largest terminals in the port have shop stewards who are a nephew or son-in-law of the late Mafia boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante, and numerous other Gigante relatives hold or have held lucrative ILA jobs at the port, the commission noted. The commission report included an appendix with charts showing family connections between mobsters and ILA officials and workers in the port.
The report said the current interpretation of the NYSA-ILA contract “creates a significant number of prime positions on the waterfront that require little or no work and that command outsized salaries. Those positions are almost always filled with favored individuals — those who are connected to union leaders or organized crime figures.”
The commission suggested that paying shop stewards, timekeepers and others “an exorbitant amount of money to do little or no work” could violate the Taft-Hartley Act’s prohibition on employer gifts to union officials.
The commission recommended elimination of round-the-clock pay, and requiring shop stewards to be elected by secret ballot, paid the same as co-workers, and trained in responsibilities for representing union members. Other recommendations included using seniority and merit to fill desirable positions, and revising timekeepers’ duties by requiring check-in of workers in a manner “capable of being audited, which takes advantage of technology and does not highly compensate favored individuals for little or no work.”