Judge says New York must concur with New Jersey’s desire to leave the bi-state law enforcement agency.
A federal judge has granted summary judgment in favor of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor in its request to block the State of New Jersey from unilaterally withdrawing from the commission, a law enforcement organization created by New Jersey together with the State of New York in 1953.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton found that legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, on his last day in office on Jan. 15, 2018 to withdraw the state from the bi-state agency “unambiguously” conflicted with the compact that created the agency to begin with. The law would have had New Jersey State Police perform oversight of the waterfront.
The Waterfront Commission obtained a preliminary injunction to block the state’s withdrawal on June 1, 2018, but Christie’s successor, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, continued to oppose the Waterfront Commission’s effort to obtain a permanent injunction barring New Jersey from leaving the agency on its own.
The International Longshoremen’s Association has long railed against the Waterfront Commission, which performs background checks on its members and other waterfront workers and conducts law enforcement activities related to the port. The agency was set up in 1953 to fight crime and corruption on the waterfront, but the ILA has called it outdated.
Murphy had told members of the ILA, which supported his election, “We’re going to figure out the damn Waterfront Commission once and for all” at a 2017 rally. At that event ILA Executive Vice President Dennis Daggett complained, “It’s not right that our (ILA) people have to go to work each and every day walking on eggshells because of a Gestapo regulatory agency.”
Employers also have periodically complained about the Waterfront Commission’s oversight in telling them how many longshoremen they are allowed to employ, saying it limits their flexibility in hiring.
In her ruling Wednesday, Wigenton cited language in the compact that created the Waterfront Commission that said amendments and supplements to the compact must be adopted by both states and noted New Jersey’s proposed withdrawal from the compact and its termination would be “the most substantial type of change.”
“To date, New York’s Legislature has not enacted concurring legislation” to ratify the New Jersey legislation, she noted.
Walter Arsenault, the executive director of the Waterfront Commission, said, “We are very pleased with the court’s decision. Today’s significant victory safeguards the Waterfront Commission’s ability to continue its critical mission of combating corruption and ensuring fair hiring practices in the Port of New York-New Jersey. Notwithstanding this lawsuit, we have worked closely with Governor Murphy’s administration to enhance port productivity and fair hiring, and we look forward to continuing to work together for the good of the port and the citizens of New Jersey and New York.”
In February, the Waterfront Commission responded to a request by the New York Shipping Association and ILA to allow the hiring of additional longshoremen and checkers “in light of current shortages and expected retirements in April 2019.” The commission approved the addition of 538 longshoremen and 120 checkers and the addition of those workers is now underway.
According to a press release posted on the website of insidernj.com, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney has called for an appeal of Wigenton’s decision.
“This is an outdated commission that was doing little more than hindering economic growth and costing us jobs in the state’s shipping industry,” said Sweeney. “We should not be held hostage to an ancient compact that outlived its purpose long ago. New Jersey should challenge the court ruling and get it reversed.”