While the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey claims congestion at its marine terminals has eased in recent weeks, a coalition of business and labor leaders are planning a rally Tuesday morning to complain about regulation of the port’s workforce by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.
A press release from that coalition cited “a growing crisis that threatens the New York-New Jersey economy,”
and said a coalition is calling for “immediate filling of nearly 700 empty jobs at the region’s ports, and reforms to the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to put the shipping industry and labor in joint control of future hiring.”
It said the labor shortage “has already begun to impact economic activity, with shipping companies diverting cargo to other ports along the Eastern seaboard rather than cope with the delays in loading, unloading and delivering cargo. Two trucking companies whose businesses were centered on port activity have recently gone bankrupt.”
The coalition is being led by New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech and New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Bracken. The group also includes the New York Shipping Association, International Longshoremen’s Association, Metropolitan Maintenance and Marine Contractors Association, and a variety of other businesses.
The ILA, along with two groups representing its employers, the NYSA and MMCA, are suing the Waterfront Commission, claiming it is improperly interfering with the hiring of new workers, some of whom are being hired to replace ILA members given retirement incentives in their most recent contract.
The Waterfront Commission, a specialized agency created in 1953 to fight corruption on the docks in New York and New Jersey, licenses workers and also regulates the size of the workforce in the port.
“We are the only port in America that has to jump through such bureaucratic hoops just to fill one empty position, let alone the hundreds that remain,” said John Nardi, president of the New York Shipping Association, which represents marine terminals and shipping lines that employ longshoremen. “We already are seeing cargo being rerouted to other ports due to the delays in hiring skilled labor. There is a better way. Like every business we need a right-sized work force of well-trained, diverse and capable individuals as determined by the employer, not a quasigovernmental agency.”
In a rebuttal, the Waterfront Commission said the coalition’s press release accusing it of delaying hiring was “unequivocally and demonstrably false”
and said Nardi’s statement “is simply an attempt to deflect the public pressure that the Commission has been exerting on the NYSA to fill labor shortages.”
The Commission said it is “dedicated to putting people to work in the Port, in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner, as quickly as possible” and “has not been the source of any labor shortages or slowdowns in the Port. To the contrary, we have openly criticized the glacial pace at which the NYSA is moving with regard to getting longshoremen sponsored and working in the Port.”
The Commission also said there is an “incredible lack of diversity in waterfront employment” and said it applauds a plan by the ILA and NYSA that calls for 51 percent of jobs to be filled by returning veterans with the remainder coming from ILA and NYSA referrals “as long as that plan was truly implemented in accordance with its terms.” But, it says, “Instead of recruiting and hiring military veterans, as promised, they have dedicated most of their efforts to employing and training their own referrals, to the severe disadvantage of the veterans. As a result, the Commission has had to forcefully advocate on behalf of those veterans who are simply waiting for the NYSA and ILA to put them to work in the Port.”
“Billions of dollars of our state’s economy ride on an efficient, well-staffed port, and the longer this situation goes unchanged the more damage will be done,” said Thomas Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “The cargo diversions and trucking company bankruptcies are just the beginning unless the Waterfront Commission steps aside and lets business and labor do what needs to be done to protect the ports and our economy.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it has made significant improvements in moving cargo on and off port terminals since the beginning of the year, when snow and historic low temperatures forced terminals to suspend operations, resulting in cargo backups.
It said at the peak of portwide congestion in February, the average number of gate moves per week for all terminals was 36,400, but that in the past two weeks, the average increased to more than 60,000 cargo moves. Dwell time (the average time cargo loads stay at the port), which averages 4.2 days, peaked at 8.1 days in January and is beginning to moderate, with an average of 6 days in the past two weeks, the port said.
The port attributed improvements to efforts by terminal operators, the trucking community and a Port Performance Task Force, a recently formed group examining broad long-term recommendations.
It added that 2,000 new chassis were brought into the region from other ports to deal with an equipment shortage and that over the past two weeks, the number of chassis that have been out of service were reduced by more than 30 percent.