A New York state agency’s discrimination complaint against the International Longshoremen’s Association and the New York Shipping Association adds a new element to a battle over control of hiring in the East Coast’s largest port.
The New York State Division of Human Rights said a system of ILA referrals and employer job sponsorships has “caused a disproportionate number of minorities and women to be excluded from ILA membership and employment opportunities.” The report cited the predominantly white, male membership of three New York ILA locals.
Coming amid negotiations on a new ILA contract, the human rights complaint created what the union and employers said was an unwelcome diversion. “With our local bargaining at a sensitive juncture, the timing of this complaint seems somewhat inappropriate,” NYSA President Joseph Curto said.
The complaint closely tracked criticism by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a crime watchdog agency that has accused the ILA and NYSA of failing to hire enough minorities and women to reflect the population of communities around the docks.
The Waterfront Commission and industry have been jousting over diversity for more than two years. Besides promoting diversity as part of its mission to promote fair hiring, the commission wants to shake up what it sees as an insular waterfront culture that is susceptible to organized-crime influence.
Patrick Foye, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, also has weighed in on the diversity issue. He has threatened to use port authority leases to crack down on “deliberate discrimination” in hiring.
The New York human rights agency’s complaint could lead to fines, penalties and a cease-and-desist order. The ILA and NYSA said they would contest the complaint at hearings. Any decision by the human rights division order may be appealed to state courts.
The complaint focused on ILA locals 824 in Manhattan, 920 on Staten Island and 1814 in Brooklyn, saying their approximately 589 members were 78.6 percent white, 7.5 percent black, 12.7 percent Hispanic and 4.6 percent female.
The ILA and NYSA note the New York locals handle less than 20 percent of the port’s cargo. When the ILA’s larger New Jersey locals are included, the racial breakdown for the entire port is close to that of the metropolitan area, they point out.
The ILA and NYSA said the port’s overall work force last year was 25 percent African-American, 13 percent Hispanic and 11 percent female. The 2010 census said the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area was 20.4 percent black and 24.6 percent Hispanic.
“If you look at the port on a macro basis, the work force is very diverse,” Curto said. “On a micro basis, it doesn’t match the demographics of surrounding neighborhoods, but that’s because of the socioeconomic evolution of those communities.”
Historically, the port’s ILA locals drew their memberships from dockside areas dominated by ethnic groups such as the Irish on Manhattan’s West Side. When containerization shifted cargo handling to New Jersey, ILA locals working breakbulk cargo in Manhattan and Brooklyn went into irreversible decline.
Decades ago, the ILA’s Manhattan and Brooklyn locals each had several thousand members.
Today, after years of hiring freezes, Local 824 in Manhattan has only 100 members and Local 1814 Brooklyn has less than 400. Local 920 in Staten Island has a largely older membership and has less work than larger New Jersey locals.
The New York human rights complaint cited a dispute that flared last year between the Waterfront Commission and ILA and NYSA over hiring of 50 seasonal workers for cruise-ship baggage handling, which often is a stepping stone to more lucrative cargo-handling work.
The Waterfront Commission selected half of the 50 candidates from unemployment centers. The ILA provided the others through informal channels. When the commission realized the ILA’s pre-screened candidates were all white, it refused to register the last eight. In response, the NYSA refused to allow the commission-screened workers to be trained for year-round jobs driving cars off ships.
While the impasse continues, the NYSA and ILA are implementing a new program that selects 51 percent of new hires from military veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters in the war on terrorism. The other 49 percent would come from union referrals in a way the ILA and NYSA say would be fair and nondiscriminatory.
Under the new program, employers are hiring 25 baggage handlers to replace positions that have become vacant as workers have transferred to more lucrative work handling vehicles or containers. “We think everyone will find that the group we are bringing in is extremely diverse,” Curto said.
Meanwhile, the ILA and NYSA are urging New York legislators to support a bill abolishing the Waterfront Commission’s statutory authority to restrict the size of the longshore work force. The commission contends the restrictions are needed to avoid an oversupply of jobs that would encourage job-selling and other rackets.
The NYSA and ILA argue that employers should be able to add workers when they’re needed, without seeking commission approval. They say the commission was given control of the work force in 1968 not to control organized crime but to restrict costs under the ILA contract’s now-defunct guaranteed income program, which paid ILA members for whom no work was available.
Changing the Waterfront Commission’s authority requires approval by both New York and New Jersey. New Jersey legislators have approved a bill to end the commission’s control over the size of the work force, but the legislation stalled again this year in New York.