NEWARK, N.J. — A federal district judge denied a request for a preliminary injunction aimed at blocking new hiring rules imposed by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. The new rules are aimed at increasing diversity in the unionized workforce at repair facilities operated by the Metropolitan Marine Management Contractors in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen’s Association, in conjunction with Metro employers, had asked the court to prevent the Waterfront Commission from applying a hiring rules change they say would worsen labor shortages in the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Following a three-hour hearing today, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton said she found there was no "irreparable harm" to hiring by employers in the port. She said she would consider a motion to dismiss a suit by the NYSA and the ILA by the end of January, which she plans to file electronically.
The injunction request was related to a lawsuit the NYSA, ILA, and Metro filed last month. The lawsuit accuses the commission of overstepping its statutory authority by interfering in collective bargaining agreements between employer groups and the ILA.
The Waterfront Commission says it has a statutory mandate to make sure that hiring is fair and non-discriminatory, and to oppose efforts to “institutionalize discrimination through collective bargaining agreements.”
“We have looked at the numbers and they are staggering,” said Phoebe Sorial, general counsel for the Waterfront Commission. She said the unionized workforce in the harbor was overwhelmingly white.
Today’s hearing involved approximately 925 mechanics covered by the Metro-ILA contract and registered by the Waterfront Commission.
Sorial said that Metro Local 1814 in Brooklyn has a workforce that is 7.5 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic. Local 1801-4 in New Jersey is 100 percent male, but only 16.6 percent Hispanic.
NYSA Attorney Donato Caruso said the port’s overall longshore workforce is 22.7 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic and 9.7 percent female.
Sorial explained that the commission is trying to come up with a pre-qualification system that would increase the diversity of the labor pool that is vetted for hiring by NYSA employers.
The Waterfront Commission is unique to New York-New Jersey. It was created in 1953 to combat crime on the docks. Its duties include policing waterfront crime and licensing and registering dockworkers and companies, in addition to regulating the port’s register of ILA longshoremen and clerks.
The commission’s jurisdiction over hiring in the harbor was originally designed to limit the size of the longshore workforce pool so as to prevent jobs being auctioned off by union officials.
Under the current hiring riles, the commission screens the job applicants that are referred to it by the ILA and the NYSA. Sorial said that the commission wants to change this process by creating a labor pool of pre-qualified applicants for jobs to which it would contribute 50 percent, the NYSA 25 percent, and the ILA, 25 percent.
Caruso said the hiring rules applied by the commission have worked for 45 years and that there was no need to change them. Sorial said the commission has been working for the last five years to increase diversity in accordance with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Act and the rules laid down by the anti-discrimination laws of New York and New Jersey.
Part of the hearing focused on whether the commission was providing an adequate number of pre-qualified applicants for job openings at Metro Local 1804-1 in New Jersey. Sorial said the commission had “zero” applications for screening for these jobs. She said the commission had returned some applications to the ILA for certification that hiring them would be “fair and non-discriminatory,” but that “the ILA has not responded.”
Judge Wigenton said she scheduled today’s hearing because she was looking for answers on the issues involved in the request for an injunction on the commission’s new rules. “There was a real concern that there would not be enough workers to replace retirees,” she said. “There is no irreparable harm to the new hiring rules. Looking at the public interest, there is a need to ensure a diverse workforce.” She said she would issue an order based on her findings by the end of January.