NY-NJ Terminals Spar with Waterfront Commission

NY-NJ Terminals Spar with Waterfront Commission

New York-New Jersey marine terminal executives testified they're doing what they can to chip away at inefficient labor practices such as paying union timekeepers up to 27 hours a day, but they said the changes must be made through collective bargaining, not under pressure from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

"I don't like the idea that the Waterfront Commission wants to run my business. That's what you guys want to do," American Stevedoring CEO Sabato Catucci told a commission hearing. "If you want to run my business, buy me out and take me over and you try to get more productivity out of the port."

Catucci testified in the fourth in a series of hearings the agency has held to highlight what Commissioner Ron Goldstock said was "literally alarming" evidence of no-show jobs, favoritism in hiring and organized crime influence that "adversely affects the ability of the port to be competitive." ILA officials are scheduled to testify Nov. 18.

Catucci and Jim Devine, chief executive of GCT USA, which owns Global Terminal and New York Container Terminal, took issue with what they saw as suggestions that mobsters dominate the port.

"There is no goddamn organized crime influence on the day-to-day decisions we make, in any way, shape or form," Devine said.

Joseph Curto, president of the New York Shipping Association, said employers are working to rein in costs of practices such as paying ILA timekeepers up to 27 hours a day but that they're restricted by union contracts, customs and practices that have grown up over decades and can't be changed unilaterally.

"It's at the bargaining table we'll have an opportunity to address some of these things that add to the cost of doing business in the port," Curto said.

Curto said many costly staffing requirements and work rules were established in negotiations decades ago, when the port was switching from labor-intensive breakbulk shipping to mechanized containerized cargo. He said some have survived in the give-and-take of subsequent rounds of bargaining.

Goldstock noted previous hearing testimony that timekeepers and shop stewards were paid round-the-clock, or even more than 24 hours a day, while racking up annual pay of $200,000 to $300,000 or more. Curto said that when fringe benefits and other costs were included, there was little difference between paying one worker for 24 hours and hiring three workers to divide the work over the same period.

Terminal executives disputed Goldstock's suggestion that ILA timekeepers and shop stewards have undemanding jobs that allow them to collect pay of up to $464,000 for working only a few hours a day at jobs they got through inside connections. Devine said NYCT once tried to hire fill-in timekeepers and "burned through about a half-dozen people that couldn't do the job."

Couldn't the work of a timekeeper with six-figure pay be done by a skilled data entry worker making $20 or $25 an hour? Goldstock asked.

"Those people don't have an ILA contract," Curto replied.

-- Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com.