Hiring of longshoremen at the Port of New York and New Jersey is lurching forward after months of finger-pointing and acrimonious litigation. For port users, the new hires can’t start work soon enough.
Shortages of International Longshoremen’s Association labor have helped fuel months of congestion and delays at the East Coast’s busiest port.
The New York Shipping Association says some 300 longshoremen’s and checkers’ positions are open. Nearly 300 additional workers are set to retire April 1 with enhanced pensions under the new NYSA-ILA contract.
The process of filling those vacancies is entangled in a complex dispute that pits employers and the ILA against the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the bistate crime watchdog agency that regulates the size of the port’s longshore workforce.
The NYSA says it’s “cautiously optimistic” that enough workers can be hired to fill openings left by the April 1 retirees, although there’s less than a month to go.
As of last week, 82 longshoremen had been hired since December, when the Waterfront Commission okayed the hiring of 150 longshoremen and 75 checkers.
More than 600 other applicants are in various stages in the hiring process. The numbers are changing almost daily as candidates run a gantlet of interviews, screening, registration, certification and hiring.
The commission’s decision to allow the hiring of 150 longshoremen and 75 checkers represented a down payment on the industry’s request to bring in 682 dockworkers -- 532 longshoremen and 150 checkers.
The Waterfront Commission agreed that the future hiring of 382 longshoremen and an unspecified number of additional checkers would be “appropriate” in light of the scheduled retirement of workers in April.
The NYSA and ILA are continuing to process and refer job candidates with the expectation that the commission eventually will authorize all 682 requested positions, said Susan Winfree, the NYSA’s vice president, workforce development.
The industry and the Waterfront Commission have accused each other of delays in hiring of dockworkers needed to relieve labor shortages at the port.
Employers and the ILA have filed a lawsuit challenging the commission’s new hiring rules, which reduce the union’s traditional role in referring job candidates for employers to screen and submit for commission background checks and licensing.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton of Newark is expected to rule this month on the commission’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.
The commission says it is carrying out its mission to combat favoritism and discrimination in hiring, and to promote workforce diversity.
Employers and the ILA say the port’s longshore workforce already is diverse, and that commission is illegally intruding into collective bargaining issues.
The NYSA-ILA local contract, signed last April, specifies that new hires will be drawn from a pool made up of 51 percent military veterans, 25 percent ILA referrals, and 24 percent NYSA referrals.
Processing of job candidates hit a snag recently when the Waterfront Commission complained that the first groups of candidates included too many ILA referrals and too few veterans.
“We are deeply troubled by the marked underrepresentation of veteran referrals,” said Phoebe Sorial, the Waterfront Commission’s general counsel. She said none of the initial referrals for checkers’ jobs were veterans.
After the commission complained that the ILA was referring more than its share of applicants, giving that group a leg up on seniority, employers agreed to step up referrals of veterans to bring their numbers closer to the contract’s 51-25-24 formula.
Winfree said about 40 new applicants a week are being interviewed by a committee representing the NYSA, the ILA, and terminal operators, and that the process has picked up speed in recent weeks.
About 3,500 ILA longshoremen’s and checkers’ positions are covered by the NYSA-ILA contract. Roughly 1,000 port mechanics work under a separate contract between the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association and ILA locals 1804-1 and 1814.
Companies in the Metro association have been in a standoff with the commission over hiring of additional ILA mechanics to help clear a backlog of chassis needing repair. Truckers say chassis shortages have contributed to delays at terminals.
The Metro association has joined the NYSA and ILA in challenging the new Waterfront Commission hiring rules, which extend the commission’s regulation to include hiring of mechanics.
While the industry and the commission await a ruling on the lawsuit, the controversy has attracted legislative attention.
Several New Jersey legislators have urged New York lawmakers to revoke the Waterfront Commission’s power to regulate the size of the longshore workforce. New Jersey enacted such a bill in 2007 but the change requires action by both states.