NJ lawmakers advance bill to dissolve Waterfront Commission

NJ lawmakers advance bill to dissolve Waterfront Commission

New Jersey legislators have moved a step closer to passing a bill to dissolve the bistate Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and transfer its New Jersey operations to the state police.

The state Assembly’s Appropriations Committee voted without objection last week to approve the companion to a Senate-passed bill. If the bill is approved by the Assembly, it will go to Gov. Chris Christie for signature or veto.

Waterfront Commission officials contend the legislation is unconstitutional, and that New Jersey can’t unilaterally withdraw from a congressionally approved contract. New Jersey lawmakers say the agreement is a contract from which one party is free to withdraw.

Industry and labor leaders in the Port of New York and New Jersey have feuded for years with the commission, which is unique to the East Coast’s largest port. The agency was created in 1953 to combat crime on the docks, and since 1968 has had control over the size of the longshore workforce, more than 80 percent of which works in New Jersey.

Commission-industry bickering over hiring procedures last year delayed the start of hiring of 652 new longshoremen and clerks that all agreed were needed to replace retirees and handle growth in cargo volume.

The International Longshoremen’s Association and the New York Shipping Association unsuccessfully sued to block the commission from enforcing its hiring rules, which the commission said were needed to ensure diversity but the ILA and NYSA said were regulatory overreach.

The International Longshoremen’s Association has urged the commission be abolished. In a speech last fall, ILA President Harold Daggett called the agency an “evil empire.

New Jersey enacted legislation in 2007 to strip the agency of its power to regulate the size of the longshore workforce. New York lawmakers, however, have failed to pass identical legislation required for the law to take effect.

The Waterfront Commission’s power to regulate the size of the longshore workforce dates to 35 years ago, when employers sought a way to limit their costs under a guaranteed annual income program that paid dockworkers whose jobs were made redundant by containerization.

Although the guaranteed annual income program ended two decades ago, the commission contends it still needs to regulate the size of the waterfront workforce in order to guard against job-selling and other rackets.

The agency conducts background checks and licensing for dockworkers and companies. Its $12 million annual budget is paid by a 2 percent assessment on port business revenue.

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