The New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association have asked a court to block a hiring rules change they say would worsen labor shortages in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The NYSA and ILA’s request for a U.S. District Court injunction against the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor is the latest round in a bitter fight over dockworker hiring at the East Coast’s busiest port.
Last month the NYSA and ILA filed a lawsuit accusing the Waterfront Commission of illegal “interference” with the NYSA-ILA contract’s hiring provisions. The commission says it is acting under its statutory mandate to ensure fairness and diversity in hiring.
Both the industry and the commission view the current legal showdown as a potential landmark in determining how far the Waterfront Commission can go in influencing the makeup of the port’s labor force.
Port users have a large stake. The NYSA and ILA say confusion over hiring rules threatens to produce labor shortages like those that combined with system glitches and construction to produce near-gridlock at New York-New Jersey terminals last summer.
“The commission should not be permitted to straddle the port like the Colossus of Rhodes standing in judgment of an entire industry that affects tens of millions of people and tens of billions of dollars in commerce,” the NYSA and ILA said in their injunction request.
“The businesses of NYSA’s members, the jobs of ILA’s members, and the economy of the region should not be held hostage to the whim of two self-professed masterminds who seek to control and manipulate matters over which they have no authority.”
The Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 to combat crime on the docks. The agency is headed by two commissioners, one each from New York and New Jersey.
Carriers, truckers and cargo interests “are all annoyed with the effect of the labor shortages in the port,” NYSA President John Nardi said in an affidavit in support of the injunction request. “Ocean carriers and beneficial cargo owners are certainly in a position to divert their cargoes.”
The latest NYSA-ILA court filing targets the commission’s recent change in rules for hiring port mechanics employed by members of the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association.
The Waterfront Commission has regulated the port’s registry of longshoremen and clerks since 1966, when the two states passed legislation to limit employers’ costs from the ILA’s guaranteed annual income program.
The GAI was eliminated in the 1990s, after the port’s workforce had been reduced in response to containerization. However, the commission says it still needs to control the longshore registry to prevent labor surpluses that encourage job-selling and other rackets.
The NYSA and ILA have long sought to deregulate the longshore registry by repealing Section 5-p of the bistate Waterfront Commission Act. Repeal legislation was enacted in New Jersey in 2009 but has stalled in New York.
The commission maintains two registers of licensed dockworkers -- a closed register for longshoremen and checkers who load and unload vessels, and an open “A” register created in 1969 for mechanics who never were covered by the GAI.
Longshoremen and clerks are employed by stevedore companies covered by the NYSA-ILA contract. Some 600 to 700 ILA mechanics on the “A” register are employed by members of the Metro association.
Last May the Waterfront Commission determined that NYSA members could hire “A” registry mechanics. The NYSA and ILA then amended their contract to mirror the Metro association’s hiring procedures, which allow the union to refer job candidates to employers.
The commission responded with new rules requiring sponsoring employers to certify that at every step of the hiring process, registrants were selected “in a fair and nondiscriminatory basis.”
The NYSA and ILA say their contract’s language on certification refers to the selection of new employees, but that “the commission interprets the term ‘selection’ to include recruitment and referral.”
“The commission's interpretation is an attempt to pressure the members of NYSA so that they deny ILA Locals 1804-1 and 1814 the right under the labor contracts to refer individuals for employment," the NYSA and ILA said in their injunction request.
The employers and union say the rule change conflicts with their new labor contract, which specifies that 51 percent of new hires will be military veterans, 25 percent referrals by the ILA, and 24 percent referrals by the NYSA.
The NYSA and ILA have asked the commission to approve the hiring of 682 dockworkers -- 532 longshoremen and 150 clerks
The new hires would replace about 250 dockworkers set to retire by April under the new contract, some 300 currently vacant slots, and a small number of additional positions. The NYSA-ILA contract covers some 3,500 workers.
The Waterfront Commission last week said it had determined that current shortages warrant the addition of only 150 longshoremen and 75 clerks, with the balance to be hired later to replace the expected retirees next year.
The commission’s order apparently was designed to ensure that the ILA’s share of referrals under the new contract was limited to 25 percent and that ILA referrals didn’t spill over into the 51 percent share set aside for veterans.
NYSA and ILA officials were angered by the order, which also requires a representative of the NYSA-ILA Contract Board directly involved with administering the hiring plan to swear that the process followed antidiscrimination laws, and to face New York state criminal penalties for “the offering of a false sponsorship letter.”