New Jersey Will Leave Famed NY/NJ Waterfront Crime Commission in March

NYNJ Waterfront Commission on organized crime and corruption
New Jersey wants to withdraw from the 69-year-old Waterfront Commission formed to fight corruption and organized crime (Port of NYNJ file photo)

Published Feb 14, 2022 8:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

New Jersey state officials are moving ahead with their plan to withdraw from the 69-year-old Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, which was set up by New York and New Jersey in response to the long history of corruption and organized crime in New York harbor. New Jersey has repeatedly contended that the commission has outlived its purpose and the state has been locked in a four-year battle with New York over the future of the commission.

Saying that the Commission was “over-regulating” the port and making the business less competitive, New Jersey’s state legislature started the effort to end the Commission in 2018. The unions operating in the port strongly supported the move also saying that the oversight made the port less competitive with neighboring ports by making it difficult to hire and change work rules.

“The current bureaucratic structure of the Waterfront Commission does not support the needs of the port industry and region but instead hinders innovation, efficiency, and economic opportunity. Frankly, it is a structure built for gridlock and inertia as each state in this bi-state compact has one commissioner. Unfortunately, both commissioners must agree to make any substantive changes,” wrote The New York Shipping Association (NYSA), the collective bargaining association for the port, in support of New Jersey’s efforts.

New Jersey argues that its state police could effectively oversee the port and police it to protect against corruption and organized crime. New York argues that the threats remain very real and the commission has done an effective job in addressing the well-document problems of the port, including in the 1950s movie “On the Waterfront.” 

“This corruption was documented in the early 1950s during public hearings held by the New York State Crime Commission with the assistance of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Council. As a result, in August 1953, the states of New York and New Jersey, with the approval of the Congress and the President of the United States, enacted a compact creating the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor,” according to its prepared history of the commission.

Then Governor Chris Christie in his last days in office in New Jersey and who had previously been a prosecutor approved the legislature’s bill to withdraw from the Commission. Incoming Governor Phil Murphy took the same position and was forced to defend against a lawsuit by New York. A federal judge ultimately sided with New York saying that New Jersey did not have the unilateral right to withdraw. A U.S. Court of Appeals later overturned that decision and in November 2021 the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not intervene in the case clearing the way for New Jersey to proceed.

With New Jersey now saying it will withdraw from the Waterfront Commission on March 28, 2022, New York has again served notice that it believes the Commission can only be disbanded by unanimous action by both states. New York says that the Commission continues to play a critical role fighting organized crime and says New Jersey is in violation of the 1953 agreement if it seeks to proceed with its attempt to withdraw.

New Jersey responded to New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s threats of a new federal lawsuit saying that it still believes the Commission “saddles the industry with excessive assessments and inefficient processes for labor.” They also argue that the joint port has evolved where 90 percent of the activity now takes place in New Jersey.

NYSA issued a statement saying that the union, “strongly supports New Jersey in asserting its sovereignty over its port under the auspices of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) and in its efforts to protect the state’s and port region’s significant economic engine. The NJSP is a professional organization that will upgrade industry regulation with a proven ability to enhance port oversight and perform law enforcement functions under modern and cutting-edge methods. “If the Port of NY&NJ is to remain competitive and the supply chain resilient, this is a change that needs to happen,” says the union saying that it has been arguing for modernization for more than a decade.

The two states remain in a standoff over the future of the Commission. New York is continuing to review its options reiterated on Friday that it will withdraw as planned at the end of next month.