A coalition of members from the business, labor and legislative communities took to Port Elizabeth Tuesday to call on the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor to immediately fill what it says are nearly 500 job vacancies across the area's ports.
The coalition wants the responsibility of staffing at the region's ports taken away from the commission, a bistate agency.
According to the coalition's claims, the vacancies have led to strenuous working conditions for current workers, and delays at the region's ports have forced shipping companies to divert their business elsewhere. One trucking company, the coalition alleges, went bankrupt recently due to a drop in port-related business.
"Job growth and a growing, healthy economy are vital components in our attack on New Jersey's fiscal challenges," New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken said. "A healthy and vibrant port addresses both of these needs. It adds good, permanent jobs to New Jersey's workforce, and a properly staffed port will run efficiently and assist many other industries such as trucking, manufacturing and retail."
The coalition claims their request is timely given that as of April 1, roughly 300 more workers will retire through incentives for early retirement offered through the most recent collective bargaining agreement.
"We are seeing our state's largest economic engine essentially idled and our port's continued competitiveness being put at a disadvantage because of the Waterfront Commission's stranglehold on jobs," state AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said. "It makes absolutely zero sense why nearly 500 badly needed jobs sit vacant when both business and labor are ready to fill them."
The coalition claims the state's ports contribute to more than 251,000 jobs statewide and have an economic footprint of more than $40 billion.
"The Waterfront Commission's nonfeasance and inaction is hurting the competitiveness of the ports of Elizabeth and Newark, the economy of the state of New Jersey and thousands of workers supported by port businesses," state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said.
The commission claims the coalition has distorted the facts, with New Jersey Commissioner Jan Gilhooly noting in a statement released Tuesday that he was "greatly troubled that continuous misrepresentations are being made to elected New Jersey officials, members of the media and members of the industry."
"The Waterfront Commission will continue to do everything in its power to fulfill its mandate to ensure the fair hiring of a diverse workforce in the port," Gilhooly said.