Court dismisses NYSA-ILA lawsuit against Waterfront Commission over hiring

Court dismisses NYSA-ILA lawsuit against Waterfront Commission over hiring

A federal judge has dismissed an employer-union lawsuit challenging the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor’s new rules for hiring dockworkers in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The lawsuit has complicated a dispute over hiring of International Longshoremen’s Association dockworkers needed to avoid labor shortages that have contributed to chronic delays at the East Coast’s busiest container port.

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton of Newark rejected claims that the commission had overstepped its authority and interfered in collective bargaining by applying new rules that restrict union referrals of applicants for ILA jobs.

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The ILA and its employers accused the commission of trying to micromanage a hiring process negotiated last year by the union and the New York Shipping Association and Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association.

The commission said its hiring rules were aimed at increasing diversity in the port’s ILA workforce. The NYSA and ILA countered that their workforce already was more than one-third black or Hispanic.

Wigenton ruled that the commission, a bistate crime watchdog agency, has authority to combat discriminatory hiring practices. She cited amendments to the bistate compact that created the commission in 1953, and noted that industry spokesmen had endorsed the amendments when they were proposed.

“Combating discriminatory hiring practices and striving for a diverse workforce in the Port of New York district are deeply rooted in the compact’s purposes and commission’s authority,” Wigenton said in a 30-page opinion. “The elimination of ‘corrupt hiring practices,’ including the purposeful exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities and women, is certainly encompassed within the compact’s purposes.”

Wigenton also dismissed a commission request for sanctions against the NYSA and ILA for allegedly misrepresenting the agency’s stance on hiring new workers. She said the request for sanctions was made moot by her dismissal of the lawsuit.

Phoebe Sorial, the Waterfront Commission’s general counsel, said Wigenton upheld the commission’s authority to regulate hiring practices established in collective bargaining agreements.

“Over the past 60 years, courts have consistently upheld the commission’s actions when a collective bargaining agreement has violated the act,” Sorial said in a statement. “We are very pleased with today’s decision, which sends the clear and unmistakable message to the ILA, NYSA and MMMCA that their attempts to institutionalize discrimination through collective bargaining agreements will not be tolerated.”

Last year’s six-year local contract between the NYSA and ILA earmarks 51 percent of new hires for military veterans, 25 percent for ILA referrals, and 24 percent for NYSA referrals. That formula is being applied to the hiring of 682 longshoremen and checkers that the NYSA and ILA have requested commission approval to hire.

After a slow start last winter following bickering over details, hiring is proceeding under a process in which job candidates are referred to the commission for background checks, vetting and sponsorship by employers, and licensing by the commission.

The latest update on the NYSA website shows 348 of the new workers were on the job as of Aug. 21. They were from among 1,118 applicants who were interviewed and 375 who had been certified by the commission.

Most of the new hires would fill existing vacancies that have been blamed for delays at the port and would replace about 300 workers who had been set to retire April 1 under the NYSA-ILA contract that was signed last year.

Many of the scheduled April 1 retirees agreed to postpone their departures for up to six months in order to ensure an adequate supply of labor during the summer and fall.

Hiring also is proceeding slowly for ILA mechanics employed under union contracts with the NYSA and MMMCA.

Contact Joseph Bonney at and follow him on Twitter: @josephbonney.