NJ Legislators Seek Curb on Waterfront Commission

NJ Legislators Seek Curb on Waterfront Commission

New Jersey legislators are seeking to restrict the authority of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which is battling port employers and the International Longshoremen’s Association over rules for hiring dockworkers.

Assemblymen Gordon Johnson, Ralph Caputo and Thomas Giblin, all Democrats, filed a bill to give the governors of New York and New Jersey 10 days to veto actions of the Waterfront Commission, a bistate agency created in 1953 to combat crime on the docks.

Identical versions of the bill were introduced in the last two legislative sessions. The New Jersey legislation would not take effect unless New York enacts a similar bill.

Separately, Sen. Joe Pennacchio and Assemblyman Scott Rumana, both Republicans, introduced a resolution urging New York lawmakers to follow New Jersey in eliminating the commission’s control over the size of the longshore workforce.

New Jersey passed its bill in 2007, but repeated efforts to pass a companion bill in New York have failed.

Pennacchio and Rumana said the legislation is needed to break a logjam over hiring of longshoremen needed to ease labor shortages at the port.

“Even though management and labor have both agreed that additional staffing is needed, it still must go through a third party just to get approval for those numbers.  What other business has to subordinate themselves to a third party when dealing with hiring practices?” Pennacchio said in a statement.

He noted that the vast majority of New York-New Jersey port traffic is on the New Jersey side of the harbor. “I question the need for a bi-state authority to regulate New Jersey commerce in the first place,” he said.

“In April, 300 longshoremen will be retiring.  Their imminent retirement creates an urgency to fill and train these positions.  Without new hires, safety and efficiency will be affected,” Rumana said.

The New York Shipping Association, the ILA, and the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors Association have filed a lawsuit challenging the commission’s new hiring rules, which would reduce the ILA’s role in referring job candidates.

The industry and union contend the commission is overstepping its authority with the new hiring rules. The rules conflict with collective bargaining agreements that allow the ILA to refer candidates for employers to screen and submit to the commission for background checks and licensing.

The commission says the rules changes are an effort to increase workforce diversity and are within the agency’s authority to promote fairness in hiring. The commission has asked U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton to dismiss the industry-ILA lawsuit. 

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him on Twitter at @JosephBonney.