NEWARK, New Jersey — The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor has subpoenaed numerous longshoremen in an effort to identify the organizers and cause of a Jan. 29 wildcat strike that idled the East Coast’s busiest port.
“We’ve interviewed dozens of people and have dozens more to go,” Walter Arsenault, the commission's executive director, told JOC.com
Arsenault would not discuss what the agency has learned so far, but said interviews continue to turn up new leads. He and Phoebe Sorial, the commission’s general counsel, said the investigation could take another month or so, after which the commission will issue a report.
There’s been no clear explanation for the one-day strike, which blindsided terminal operators, truckers, shippers and even many dockworkers who told JOC.com they had no idea why the surprise walkout was called at 10 a.m. on a busy Friday.
An International Longshoremen’s Association spokesman said the walkout was a spontaneous protest that appeared to be aimed chiefly at the Waterfront Commission, a bistate crime watchdog agency that has jousted repeatedly with the ILA over hiring and other issues.
ILA President Harold Daggett said he had no advance knowledge of the strike, and he disputed JOC.com reports that the walkout originated within mechanics’ Local 1804-1, which he formerly headed and now is overseen by his son Dennis, the ILA’s executive vice president.
The strike ended after the New York Shipping Association secured an arbitrator's ruling that the work stoppage violated the NYSA-ILA contract's no-strike provision, and the ILA urged union members to return to work.
Shippers were angered by the strike. Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said the work stoppage sent “a very troublesome message to the port’s customers — the cargo owners.”
The inquiry by the Waterfront Commission, which licenses longshoremen at the port and operates as a police agency on the docks, is authorized under the commission’s charter, Arsenault and Sorial told JOC.com.
“The Waterfront Commission Act empowers the commission to conduct investigations and collect and compile information regarding waterfront practices generally within the port,” Sorial said.