(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Charles Mainor, Annette Quijano, Thomas Giblin, Benjie Wimberly, Eliana Pinto-Marin and L. Grace Spencer to abolish the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor received final legislative approval on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was created through a compact between the states of New Jersey and New York (and approved by Congress in 1953) to ensure fair hiring and employment practices and investigate, deter, and combat criminal activity and influence in the Port of New York and New Jersey. However, the commission has been tainted by corruption in recent years, and has been accused of compromising port operations by exercising powers it does not have.
“The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor was created to stamp out organized crime influences in the ports, but has ended up over-regulating the business, hampering job and economic growth at the port,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “The port is the second busiest freight gateway in the country and brings is $1.6 billion in local and state taxes. We cannot have such an important engine of economic growth compromised by the stifling bureaucracy that has been created by the commission.”
The bill (A-3506) directs the Governor, on behalf of the State of New Jersey, to notify the Congress of the United States, the Governor of the State of New York, and the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, of the state’s intention to withdraw from the compact creating the commission, and repealing the compact establishing the commission and related statutes. The bill would transfer the commission’s functions and duties within the State of New Jersey to the New Jersey State Police.
Those duties include: processing applications filed by individuals and firms required to be registered or licensed to undertake port-related employment; supervising the hiring of longshoremen, checkers, and pier guards in the port; and making employment information available to these dock workers. The state police would be responsible for screening, registering, and licensing individuals who are interested in working at the dock. In doing so, the state police would be authorized to deny or revoke the registration or licenses of those who involve themselves in criminal activity.
“The commission’s stranglehold on our ports is hurting business at the port,” said Quijano (D-Union). “While there is still a need to regulate this business to ensure fairness and safety, this job should not be done by the commission. Handing this responsibility over to the state police will ensure that business at the port is being conducted as it should be, without hampering progress.”
“While it served a purpose in the past, the commission and its restrictive oversight of hiring practices at the port has now become an impediment to economic growth,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “We cannot allow this at one of the busiest ports in the country. This bill allows for continued monitoring of port operations without the added red tape created by the commission.”
“The port is at the mercy of the commission, which has created a labor shortage and slowed down commerce by interfering with the hiring process,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It is time to disband the commission and have the state police take care of the oversight duties at the port.”
“We continue to have a sluggish employment market in the state, and need to take advantage of every opportunity to employ people and create a competitive port district,” said Pintor-Marin (D-Essex). “The commission has served its purpose, but now it’s time to move on. Abolishing the commission and transferring its responsibilities to the state police can provide the needed supervision without impeding economic prosperity.”
“The commission has created an extra layer of bureaucracy that threatens the region’s economy,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “The majority of the work at the port is being done in New Jersey, yet we are beholden to the commission. Let our state police oversee the work happening on our turf.”
The bill contends that the compact does not contain an express withdrawal provision, nor does it contain a mandatory effective term. While Congress retains the power to repeal its approval of the compact, this does not vitiate the contractual rights of the compacting states. Unilateral termination of the compact by a contracting state is supported by principles of contract law.
Since the compact contains no language that New Jersey and New York are perpetually bound by it, contract law allows a party to terminate the contract at will upon reasonable notice if the party is not perpetually bound by it.
The bill was approved 75-0 by the full Assembly. It was approved 36-0 by the Senate in December.