A years-long drive by New Jersey lawmakers to pull the state out of a six-decade-old agency that fights organized crime and racketeering on the waterfront has come to a head, as state Senate and Assembly votes on whether to approve legislation withdrawing the state from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor are scheduled for Fri., Jan. 5.
Created in 1953, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor is a bistate agency that is run in conjunction with the state of New York with the goal of eliminating crime and corruption in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The bill that would see New Jersey exit the 64-year-old pact was unanimously passed by New Jersey state Assembly and Senate committees in December.
Proponents of the legislation say they hope to have a bill on the desk of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie for him to sign sometime before he leaves office on Jan. 16. Also helping speed things along is that fact that a new Legislature is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 9, meaning bills not sent to the governor’s office by then will die and then have to be reintroduced in the next legislative session.
The drive to pull out of the commission is heavily supported by International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) labor union as well as the New York Shipping Association (NYSA). They and legislative supporters say that the Waterfront Commission, which performs criminal investigations at the Port of New York and New Jersey, as well as background checks of dockworkers, has outlived its usefulness, and that its duties should be taken over by other existing law enforcement agencies.
The Waterfront Commission has clashed with the ILA and groups that represent employers like the NYSA and the Metropolitan Marine Maintenance Contractors’ Association over its regulation of the number of workers they are allowed to hire, as well as specific hiring procedures.
In 2014, NYSA President John Nardi said, “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. 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 quasi-governmental agency.”
Both houses of the New Jersey State legislature passed a similar bill to repeal the compact in March 2015, but it was vetoed by Gov. Christie. The governor, however, has said that he’s had a change of heart and would sign this bill if it reaches his desk during his final days in office.