Often we see labor and management on different sides of workplace issues especially when it comes to the implementation of a new collective bargaining agreement. It was thus somewhat unusual to see the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and its employer representative—the New York Shipping Association (NYSA)—come together to sue the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor over the Commission’s heavy-handed tactics designed to derail a hiring plan worked out by labor and management.
As detailed in the lawsuit filed in federal court, the Commission is interfering with the union contract in violation of the state compact that created the Commission and federal law. As part of the agreement, the parties agreed to increased productivity standards and a recruitment and hiring program that calls for half the new hires to be honorably discharged veterans and the remaining workers referred from the union and the employers. Current staffing shortages and increases in cargo volume at the NY/NJ port necessitate the immediate hiring of 682 employees (a number agreed to by both labor and management) yet the Commission has systematically blocked the filling of these positions.
The compact expressly prohibits the Commission from interfering “in any way [with] any right of longshoremen…or their employers to bargain collectively and agree upon any method for the selection of such employees by way of seniority, experience…or otherwise.” But that is exactly what the Commission is doing here and it is unfortunate that a lawsuit is even necessary to enforce this most basic tenant. TTD President Ed Wytkind has already sent a letter to the governors of New York and New Jersey asking them to weigh in and stop the Commission from exceeding its statutory authority and wading into labor-management relations. Hopefully the federal courts will have better luck.
To add further irony, this comes at a time when transportation labor (including the ILA) has joined with business and employer groups to push for a multi-billion-dollar port and water resources improvement bill working its way through Congress. A House and Senate conference committee is working to finalize a bill and U.S. ports could soon see enhanced dredging projects and other harbor improvements that have been stuck in perpetual backlog. The last thing anybody should be doing is interfering with the staffing of these ports and failing to make them competitive in the international marketplace.
It is time for the Waterfront Commission to stand down and let labor and management implement its agreement.