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Vice president of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Kenneth Riley has called for the abolition of the Waterfront Commission of New York.
He claims it has overstepped its remit to investigate waterfront crime and is now seeking to regulate and reduce dockworker numbers.
Mr Riley told The Loadstar a planned protest in Washington DC – originally intended for 27 February but delayed for a “week or so” – was not something the ILA wanted but was forced to do to address “untenable conditions”.
He said: “The Waterfront Commission was set up to rid the New York waterfront of crime. But now it is overstepping its mandate and is seeking to regulate the docks and cull the workforce.”
In one incident, Mr Riley said, commission staff had refused a work permit for a US military veteran due to “potential links to crime”.
“This is not acceptable,” he said. “That young man subsequently went on to work for the New Jersey Highway Department as a highway patrolman – you’re telling me that he can work for a body protecting people but cannot work on the docks?”
The US Maritime Alliance (USMX) said the threat of a coastwide work stoppage was “disturbing”, and added that the ILA-USMX Master Contract forbade any unilateral work stoppage by the dockworkers’ union.
“If the ILA engages in any unilateral walkout, USMX will enforce the contractual rights of its members to the fullest,” said the USMX, urging the ILA to remain in compliance with the contract.
Mr Riley said the protest had been postponed to educate “rank and file” members, as well as industry stakeholders, on the problems faced by dockworkers, but said a new date would be announced within the week and the protest would proceed if the commission remained in place.
“We will bus our members up to Washington to protest while Congress is in session, so those in government that want to help can come and show their support for our cause,” he said.
“Everyone agrees that in New York, more than 700 waterfront workers and 120 clerical staff are needed for the safe and effective running of the port.”
The ILA and USMX held informal contract discussions last week to discuss the current master contract, which is due to expire in September 2018, and both sides described the discussions as “productive and fruitful”.
The meeting followed a two-day workshop when leaders from ILA locals at Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports examined both the contract and their respective local bargaining agreements.
“The ILA and USMX are confident that holding informal contract discussions 19 months prior to expiration demonstrates the commitment each side has to maintaining stability and growth at all ports covered by the agreement,” the statement added.
However, Mr Riley, who also presides over the ILA Local 1422 Charleston South Carolina, said the problems faced by workers in New York would spread out across other US east and Gulf coast ports.
“What happens in New York sets a precedent for the rest of the community, which is why we are building solidarity and promising this protest,” he added.
Asked by The Loadstar if ILA president Harold Daggett had given his support to the planned protest, Mr Riley said that they had not consulted the national branch of the ILA, noting that “this was a rank and file decision”.
His comments came during a visit to European ports, including Algeciras, to “build solidarity” with Spanish longshore workers protesting against the Spanish government’s decision to alter legislation, which could threaten 6,500 jobs.
He was accompanied by ILA executive vice president Dennis Daggett, who told Spanish dockworkers to not take “even one step back”.
“The ILA is with you all the way,” he added.
The Waterfront Commission was set up in 1953 to investigated reputed mob ties to the port of New York and New Jersey. In 2008, charges dating back more than three decades, including racketeering, conspiracy and extortion, were brought against leaders of the Gambino crime family, their associates and union officials.
The following year, New York state inspector general Joseph Fisch issued a report after a two-year investigation of the Waterfront Commission, which detailed extensive illegal, corrupt and unethical behaviour among staff.
The report’s release resulted in many commission executives losing their jobs, including New Jersey commissioner Michael Madonna.