UPDATED: THE WATERFRONT COMMISSON RESPONDS
The New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to enjoin the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor from “interference” in hiring of dockworkers.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., was the latest development in a bitter dispute between the commission and the NYSA and ILA over the makeup of the pool of dockworker job applicants submitted to the commission for approval.
The NYSA and ILA said that despite “significant efforts” by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to broker an agreement on hiring, “the parties were unable to reach a suitable solution to their differences and now must look to the courts for help.”
"During the past several months, in defiance of the limitations on its authority in the statute that created it, the commission has gone off the rails to pursue a future role for itself that is well outside the purposes and goals that led to its creation," the lawsuit said.
The Waterfront Commission called those allegations "categorically untrue." It said the lawsuit was "designed to prevent the commission from fulfilling its mandate to insure the fare hiring of a diverse workforce in the port."
"This attempt to institutionalize discrimination through collective bargaining agreements will not be tolerated. The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor will vigorously and successfully defend this lawsuit," the commission said in a statement.
The commission, a crime watchdog agency created in 1953, postponed three scheduled hearings this month on port hiring practices after the port authority tried to mediate an agreement. The commission said this week that it now plans a hearing in early December.
NYSA and ILA officials have accused the Waterfront Commission, created in 1953 to combat crime on the docks, of exceeding its statutory authority and interfering in collective bargaining between the ILA and its employers.
The NYSA-ILA local contract that took effect last April calls for new hires to be selected from a pool made up of 51 percent military veterans, 25 percent referrals from the ILA, and 24 percent referrals from the NYSA.
The Waterfront Commission has complained that industry referrals are too heavily weighted toward friends and families of ILA members, and that they aren’t diverse enough. The ILA and NYSA say the overall port work force is in line with the metropolitan population.
The NYSA and ILA have asked the commission for authority to hire 682 longshoremen and clerks. That number includes about 250 replacements for workers scheduled to take early retirement next April under a new labor contract, and approxmately 300 who retired under the previous contract.
NYSA President John Nardi has warned that unless new workers can be hired, labor shortages that caused severe delays last summer and have continued intermittently since then will become the norm.
The NYSA-ILA contract covers approximately 3,500 workers. Joining the NYSA and ILA in their lawsuit was the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association, whose members employ about 1,000 ILA mechanics under a separate contract.
The lawsuit contends the Waterfront Commission overstepped its authority by prohibiting employers from selecting applicants for mechanics jobs through the union referral system in their collective bargaining agreements.
The lawsuit also complains that the Waterfront Commission’s planned hearings violate due process by giving the commission sole authority to determine who will testify, what questions will be asked, and which evidence will be introduced.
“We have a collective bargaining agreement and a hiring plan that we are urgently trying to implement,” Nardi said in a statement. “Despite our sincere wishes to move in a positive and proactive manner, and despite the fact that we have proven that the ILA in New York and New Jersey is in fact already a diverse work force which our hiring plan will further enhance, the Waterfront Commission’s leadership wants to involve itself in matters for which it has no authority.
“At this point, the Waterfront Commission is totally delaying our ability to hire mechanics and clerical workers,” Nardi said.
ILA President Harold Daggett said that “by repeatedly acting beyond its legal mandate, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor has wrongfully interfered with the practices and procedures agreed upon” by the ILA and NYSA in collective bargaining.
The Waterfront Commission insisted it is acting within its statutory authority promoting fair hiring and diversity in the port's longshore work force. "Over the past 60 years, the courts have consistently upheld the commission's actions when a collective bargaining agreement has violated the letter and spirit of the Waterfront Commission Act," it said.
The commission said Daggett's home local, 1804-1, which represents maintenance and repair mechanics, is less than 2 percent black.
The agency said hearings it held in 2010 showed industry hiring practices have led to no-show and low-show jobs with outsized salaries that are "overwhelmingly given to white males connected to organized crime figures or union leadership."
The new NYSA-ILA local contract seeks to curtail those practices and improve productivity through measures such as creation of a shift system, early retirements and the hiring plan favoring veterans.
The Waterfront Commission said it has not delayed industry hiring under the new contract. It said it "has expeditiously processed each and every applicant referred."
The commission said 136 applicants, including many veterans, have been prequalified to be hired but that "the industry has simply chosen not to do so. Instead, they have responded with a baseless lawsuit."