Continued from previous pageNardi explains there is a need for more dockworkers both because the port’s workforce has an annual attrition rate of about 2.5 percent as workers retire and because the port’s cargo volumes have grown over the past five years.
In 2017, containerized cargo volumes were up 7.3 percent and automobile volumes were up 14.3 percent, and through October of this year, container volumes are up 6.9 percent in 2018 and auto volumes are up 1.2 percent, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The port’s cruise business also is growing. The port’s Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne reported a record 593,403 passengers handled in 2017, a 16 percent increase over the prior year’s activity. An additional 137,214 passengers were handled at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, a 9 percent increase over the prior year’s activity.
Unlike in other ports, the size of the workforce in the Port of New York and New Jersey is regulated by an organization called the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. Employers must get approval to add workers, who also undergo a background investigation before being hired.
“They haven’t made a formal request yet,” said Walter Arsenault, the executive director of the commission. There have been discussions about adding 300 to 400 workers, but “those numbers are very soft,” he said, with the employers indicating they are still talking to terminals about their need for workers.
Nardi also said there have been discussions of adding around 300 longshoremen to the current workforce of about 3,500 workers. (Those numbers do not include the ILA members who are members of the MMMCA.)
Nardi explained that the NYSA would like to see employers be allowed to start adding workers in the first quarter of next year, but said adding workers would be a gradual process that could take a year or more.
He said that when the longshore workforce in the port was last enlarged in 2014, the process took about two and half years as workers were recruited, approved by the Waterfront Commission and then trained.
He said new longshoremen generally begin work by unloading and discharging vehicles from ships or as baggage handlers at the cruise terminals because of the minimal training that is required. As openings at container terminals arise, those longshoremen would be able to transfer to those jobs, he said.
Nardi said there are already some applicants cleared by the commission.
Employers in the past have chaffed at the Waterfront Commission’s oversight of when and how many workers they can add at their New York terminals. There is not similar oversight in other ports.
The Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 in an effort to eliminate crime and corruption in the port. The ILA and NYSA have argued the agency is no longer needed.
“It has been the desire of NYSA to modernize the responsibilities of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor for many years now,” says NYSA’s 2017 annual report.
In 2013, the ILA, NYSA and MMMCA unsuccessfully challenged the commission’s legal authority to require that applicants were selected “in a fair and nondiscriminatory basis.”
When dockworkers were hired in 2014, the NYSA and ILA created a hiring plan that called for 51 percent to be military veterans, and Nardi said employers are once again looking at giving preference to veterans.
Complaints about the Waterfront Commission have garnered support from government officials, and Chris Christie, then the New Jersey governor, in January signed a bill to withdraw New Jersey from the bi-state compact with New York that created the commission and dissolve the agency.
The Waterfront Commission went to court, arguing the state law was invalid because it contravenes federal law, that is the bi-state compact.
In June, a federal district court granted the Waterfront Commission a preliminary injunction against the state law, saying, “It is in the public interest for the commission to continue its investigatory and regulatory work.”
In October, the Waterfront Commission asked for summary judgment in the case, asking for the New Jersey law to be ruled invalid. It said the compact “unambiguously provides that it can be amended only by Congress or by agreement of both New York and New Jersey.”
The state disagrees, and attorneys for Christie’s successor, New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy, filed a motion on Nov. 29 saying that the commission’s motion is “premature without discovery on the authority of the commission’s executive officers to retain outside counsel and file suit without notice or approval from either of the two commissioners” of the Waterfront Commission.
Murphy’s attorneys argue consent from the U.S. Congress “is not required for New Jersey to withdraw from the compact,” and say if the case is ripe for decision on the merits, the court should deny the commission’s motion and enter summary judgment saying New Jersey can enacting a repeal.