Hundreds 'march for jobs,' claim discrimination at Port Newark-Elizabeth

By Marisa Iati | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 02, 2016

NEWARK — Nathaniel James says he has applied to work at the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal 10 or 15 times.

Each time, he said, the longshoremen unions tell him they'll call, but they never do. 

James said he's qualified for the job, with 20 years of truck driving and construction experience under his belt. He thinks the unions are purposely avoiding hiring black Newark residents.

"If it ain't the color of my skin, what is it?" he asked. 

A few hundred Newark residents and officials turned out at the port Monday to protest what they say are discriminatory hiring practices by International Longshoremen's Locals 1 and 1804-1, which represent checkers and mechanics, respectively.

Holding signs reading "#occupytheport" and "Newark Port, give our city work," the protesters marched down the street to call attention to the disproportionately low numbers of black, female and local workers at the port just east of Newark Liberty International Airport.

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka last month wrote to the U.S. Department of Labor to ask for an investigation into the hiring practices of both of the port's unions. He also asked the U.S. Attorney General to determine whether civil rights laws had been broken. 

Newark and Elizabeth have a combined black and Hispanic population of 77 percent, he wrote. International Longshoremen's Locals 1 and 1804-1, however, have less than 6 percent black members and fewer than 13 percent Hispanic members, according to Baraka. He said Local 1804-1 completely lacks women.

Baraka also alleged the unions are biased against hiring local workers. Only about 6.3 percent of the port's 3,299 registered longshore workers live in Newark, Baraka said, citing a report from 2015.

On Monday, Baraka called on the International Longshoremen's Association [ILA], the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and the New York Shipping Association to help "desegregate" Port Newark-Elizabeth.

He told the crowd the longshoremen unions were turning away qualified Newark residents because of their race. 

"The only requirement they didn't pass is the fact that they were black, that they live in Newark and they weren't related to people in the ILA," Baraka said.

His mission, he said, was simple: "I want people from Newark to be able to fill out an application and get a job. That's it." 

An ILA spokesman sent NJ Advance Media a copy of a letter from union president Harold Daggett to federal labor secretary Thomas Perez. In the March 22 correspondence, Daggett says Baraka came to "self-serving and falsely-drawn conclusions ... based on contradictory and manipulated data."

Daggett wrote that contrary to Baraka's allegations, Local 1 is made up of 13.4 percent female members, and 44 percent of Local 1804-1's members are Hispanic. 

A representative for the Waterfront Commission did not immediately respond to phone calls. A spokeswoman for New York Shipping Association declined to comment.

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