Appeals court rules port regulators can block discriminatory hiring

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for
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on September 01, 2016


NEWARK — A Federal appeals panel ruled Tuesday that bi-state port regulators have the authority to block discriminatory hiring on the docks in Newark, Elizabeth, and elsewhere around the bi-state region.

 Judges from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on Tuesday upheld a 2014 ruling by a federal judge in Newark dismissing a 2013 lawsuit filed jointly by the dockworkers' union and the region's main shipping industry group against regulators at the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

The International Longshoremen's Association union, or ILA, and the New York Shipping Association, which represents container terminal operators and other port employers, and related groups, sued the Waterfront Commission, charging the bi-state regulatory agency had exceeded its authority by demanding the union and shipping group certify that job applicants had been hired based on non-discriminatory criteria.

Under a decades-old process, port job applicants become union members upon being hired by a shipping association member, once they are cleared by the commission of having ties to organized crime or other disqualifying traits.

The ILA and shipping association appealed the Judge Susan D. Wigenton's dismissal of the suit two years ago, leading to the panel's decision on Tuesday affirming the dismissal. 

"The District Court ruled that the Appellee, Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor (Commission or Waterfront Commission), was within its statutory authority
to require shipping companies and other employers to certify that prospective employees had been referred for employment pursuant to federal and state nondiscrimination policies," Tuesday's decision stated.

"The District Court also rejected claims that the Commission had unlawfully interfered with collective bargaining rights, holding that such rights were not completely protected under the language of the Waterfront Commission Compact (Compact), which was entered into by the states of New Jersey and New York in 1953," the panel added. "We will affirm."

The commission applauded the ruling, while the shipping association expressed disappointment, and the union declined to comment.

The commission was created by the legislatures of New York and New Jersey 63 years ago to prevent port labor abuses on the docks of both states chronicled in a series of newspaper articles, and later fictionalized in an early Marlon Brando film shot on location in Hoboken. The panel cited the articles and the film in its decision.

"Years of criminal activity and corrupt hiring practices on the waterfront were first brought to light in 1949 in a series of 24 articles published in the New York Sun by journalist Malcolm Johnson," the panel wrote. "Entitled 'Crime on the Waterfront,' these articles won Johnson the Pulitzer Prize, and formed the basis for the 1954 film 'On the Waterfront.'"
While the bi-state compact creating the commission provides for collective bargaining rights between the union and shippers and does not specifically mention race, the district court judge had found that the Manhattan-based commission could include racial discrimination among the types of unfair hiring practices it policed.  

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has organized protests asserting that too few of his mostly minority constituents have been hired at the port into lucrative longshoremen's jobs.

The ILA and the shipping association have accused the waterfront commission of impeding the hiring process, which they say has threatened to cause a labor shortage that would endanger the financial health of shipping terminals Newark, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Bayonne, Staten Island and Brooklyn, known collectively as the Port of New York and New Jersey.

With backing from the two groups, Sen. Raymond Lezniak (D-Union) introduced a bill to withdraw New Jersey from the bi-state commission, which is made up of one commissioner each from New York and New Jersey, with a staff of lawyers, investigators and others, funded by a surcharge on containers that pass through the East Coast's busiest port. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill, but recommended that lawmakers craft a new one refining the commission's role to prevent excessive interference in hiring.

The bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey acts as a landlord to the shippers, and its police force patrols the docks, but the Port Authority does not regulate waterfront hiring, as the commission does.

The shipping association issued a statement saying it was disappointed with the ruling, but that it would not "hurt" waterfront hiring.

"While the lawsuit was pending, it was the industry, not the Commission, that adopted and implemented a new hiring plan. For the Commission to suggest that the industry promotes discriminatory hiring practices is belied by the fact that this plan brought into the industry 900 new workers of which about 60% are minorities and over 400 are veterans."

An ILA spokesman, Jim McNamara, said the union had no comment on Tuesday's decision.

The commission issued a statement applauding the ruling, while criticizing the union and shipping association.

"This lawsuit was just one more desperate attempt to attack the Waterfront Commission's efforts to ensure that hiring on the waterfront is done in a fair and non-discriminatory manner. Today's decision once again sends the clear and unmistakable message to the ILA, NYSA and MMMCA that their attempts to institutionalize discrimination through collective bargaining agreements will not be tolerated. This decision is a significant victory for the Waterfront Commission and, more importantly, for the Port."

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commented 2016-09-03 08:18:10 -0700
South Jersey is experiencing the same thing under George Norcross
former elected black officials who don’t do what Norcross and his allies want are Severely Punished and tarnished by paid media and hackers who hijack images of plaintiff and create a negative appearance online with internet manipulation from fake wordpress and paid off media sites. it is a complete disgrace what Norcross is doing to ruin people.
commented 2016-09-03 08:14:34 -0700
Judge Jerome Simandle is a Norcross man who has been tossing civil rights cases that are against Norcross and his Allies. I strongly recommend the Federal US Attorney Generals office investigate this Gross Misconduct and wrongdoing that is interfering in our court system George E. Norcross is influencing Judges to toss cases by these controlled federal Judges who are under a corrupt federal judge named Jerome Simandle. Norcross is embarrassing and intentionally having the plantiffs punished by releasing these unwarranted cases to paid off social media site like the Courier Post and South Jersey Times. Norcross should be under investigation for a RICO.