Top executives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey urged the New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association to move faster to hire military veterans for dockworker jobs at the port.
Patrick Foye, the port authority’s executive director, and Deborah Gramiccioni, deputy executive director, said it is “critical” that the NYSA and ILA “live up to their collective bargaining agreement and work cooperatively with the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to recruit and hire veterans for the hundreds of high-paying jobs available” in the port.
The port authority officials’ statement followed a separate one from the Waterfront Commission saying the NYSA and ILA had “fallen far short of their promise” to recruit and hire more military veterans. The commission said more than 50 veterans it has cleared for hiring are awaiting industry certification.
The NYSA and ILA issued a joint response saying they “are fully committed” to implementing their contract’s hiring plan, and that “delays in certifying prequalified candidates are mainly due to the extended time it is currently taking for processing Transportation Worker Identification Cards.”
The Waterfront Commission and the industry have blamed each other for delays in hiring dockworkers to relieve labor shortages that have snarled cargo operations in the East Coast’s busiest port.
The statement by Foye and Gramiccioni seemed to put the port authority on the commission’s side in the hiring dispute. The port authority executives said their agency has hired 28 veterans in the last year for port authority police jobs. “We strongly believe those responsible for hiring on the docks should follow our lead and put these brave men and women to work as quickly as possible,” Foye and Gramiccioni said.
The NYSA and ILA complain that the commission is micromanaging hiring procedures negotiated in their year-old labor contract. The contract sets aside 51 percent of new jobs for veterans, with the balance divided between ILA and NYSA referrals.
The Waterfront Commission, created in 1953 to fight racketeering on the docks, says it is exercising its authority to promote diversity. The commission has promoted changes that would weaken the ILA’s traditional role in referrals for dockworker jobs.
The commission’s statement this week said NYSA statistics show hiring of veterans has fallen short of the labor contract’s 51 percent target. The commission is insisting that each group of new hires hit that target, so that candidates referred by the ILA and NYSA don’t have an advantage in seniority.
The industry is moving to hire 682 longshoremen and checkers, mostly to replace retirees and fill other vacancies in the NYSA’s 3,500-member workforce.
“According to the NYSA’s figures, while their plan calls for the hiring of 348 military veterans, they have only sent 216 veteran candidates to the Waterfront Commission to be prequalified,” the commission said. Meanwhile, the industry has sent 192 candidates for 171 openings for ILA referrals, and 212 candidates for 163 openings for NYSA referrals.
“Over the past several months, the Waterfront Commission has had to forcefully advocate on behalf of veterans whose background checks have been cleared and who are simply waiting for the NYSA and ILA to put them to work in the port,” the commission said.
The NYSA posts a weekly tally of candidates and their status in the hiring process. As of this week, 913 had been interviewed by a committee of the NYSA, ILA, and employer representatives, and 186 had been hired for the new job openings.
Because of commission oversight, hiring New York-New Jersey dockworkers is a multistep process.
First, employers must request commission approval to add workers, as they did with the 682 slots requested last year. Then job candidates undergo industry screening, commission prequalification, physical and agility exams, industry certification for registration by the commission, and hiring by companies.
The commission urged the NYSA and ILA to “immediately sponsor” more than 50 veterans that were awaiting industry certification.
The NYSA and ILA said workers normally wait for commission prequalification before they pay the $129.75 application fee for a TWIC, which is required for industry certification. The cards typically take several weeks for the Transportation Security Administration to process and issue.
The NYSA and ILA said they are seeking veterans through state-recognized recruiting agencies, including those sponsored by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and through job fairs for veterans. “Interviews for all candidates continue on a weekly basis, and we look forward to continuing to bolster our depleted workforce,” the employer-union joint statement said.
While the commission and industry bicker over hiring progress, the ILA and NYSA are pursuing New York state legislation to strip the commission of its power to regulate the size of the longshore workforce. New Jersey passed a similar bill in 2007, but both states must approve changes in the commission’s charter.
Meanwhile, the NYSA, ILA, and Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association, whose members hire ILA mechanics, have filed a federal court lawsuit accusing the commission of exceeding its legal authority by interfering in collective bargaining issues.
The Waterfront Commission has asked that the case be dismissed, and the two sides are awaiting a ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton of Newark.
[Updated to include statement from Port Authority officials.]