The New York Shipping Association expects “within the next couple of weeks” to seek permission to expand the longshore work force in the Port of New York and New Jersey, NYSA President John Nardi said.
The request will be in addition to replacement of 300 dockworkers who have opted for early retirement under incentives in the new six-year International Longshoremen’s Association contract.
Nardi said he’s confident the request to expand the work force will be approved by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which regulates the size of the port’s longshore registry.
The number of new hires to be sought has not been determined, but Nardi said preliminary discussions have been held “with all stakeholders.”
When the NYSA and ILA agreed on a new local contract last spring, Nardi said employers expected to eventually seek Waterfront Commission approval to expand the registered work force, which has been steady at about 3,200 for several years.
Because hiring and training new workers will require several months, it won’t provide immediate relief for this summer’s severe delays at New York-New Jersey terminals.
But it will help avoid a repeat of the current crisis, Nardi said Friday. “It’s going to prevent the meltdowns we’ve been experiencing,” he told the JOC.
Startup problems with a new operating system at Maher Terminals in early June caused vessel shifts that overwhelmed other port terminals and have caused long truck lines and diversion of cargo to other ports.
Terminal operators have cited vacation-season shortages of longshore labor as one factor in the delays, but Nardi said the number of dockworkers on vacation this summer has been in line with last year.
The problem has been that changes in systems and processes temporarily reduced terminals’ productivity and stretched the available work force, he said.
The port’s longshore labor supply tightens every summer, although Nardi said employers actively manage vacation schedules. “You can’t just take vacation on your own. You have to apply and get it approved,” he said.
Nardi said 300 dockworkers applied for early retirement with enhanced benefits under the new NYSA-ILA contract. He said the NYSA is committed to hiring and training replacements for them by April. The retiring workers must stay on until then unless the NYSA grants them an early release.
The new contract includes several other provisions aimed at improving efficiency, Nardi noted. Those include a relief-gang system scheduled to be phased in late next year, cross-training of workers, per-crane productivity standards, and labor-management productivity committees.
Nardi said those measures, coupled with an expanded work force, should combine to make this summer’s delays a one-time event. “I’m pretty confident we’re not going to have this problem ever again,” he said.