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Saturday, October 11, 2014

New Jersey Senate panel votes to dissolve Waterfront Commission


The Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 ...
The Waterfront Commission was created in 1953 to prevent racketeering. 
A bill to dissolve a bi-state commission created to guard against unfair hiring practices and organized crime infiltration in the shipping industry was approved by the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

However, the commission's executive director and general council questioned the legal authority of one state's lawmakers to unilaterally dissolve an agency created by acts of the New York and New Jersey legislatures and Congress.

The measure, S-2277, would direct the governor of New Jersey to withdraw from the bi-state compact that created the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and to dissolve the commission, which was created in 1953 in the wake of real-life revelations of mob control of the docks depicted in the Marlon Brando film, "On the Waterfront."

The bill would transfer the commission's oversight responsibilities to the New Jersey State Police.

The measure is co-sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), and Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), whose districts include shipping terminals in Elizabeth and Newark. Lesniak introduced a similar measure in 2010 that failed to gain traction.

Lesniak, a member of the committee, said during today's hearing that, like government or or even the Catholic Church, the waterfront was by no means immune to criminal activity, but that did not mean it needed its own regulatory body with police powers.

“There is no reason whey we need this extra layer of bureaucracy," Lesniak said. "And if we are going to have any bureaucratic oversight of businesses in New Jersey, I want it done by New Jersey, not have it shared by this agency.”

Lesniak said the commission had overstepped its regulatory authority by interfering with the hiring of longshoremen, thereby contributing to a labor shortage that threatened the financial health of the port, an economic engine for the region.

His arguments echoed assertions in a lawsuit against the waterfront commission filed jointly by the International Longshoremen's Association union and the New York Shipping Association, the port's main employers' group. However, a federal judge dismissed the suit, a decision the union and the shipping association have appealed.

The commission's executive director, Walter Arsenault, and its general counsel, Phoebe Sorial, told committee members it was the union and the shipping association that had failed to recruit a racially diverse class of applicants for hundreds of open longshore jobs under requirements of their own collective bargaining agreement, and had dragged their feet regarding sponsoring letters for applicants the commission had already screened for employment.

The committee vote on the bill to dissolve the organized crime-fighting commission came one day after Wedneday's sentencing of a former official of the union following his and others' admission they conspired to extort Christmastime tribute payments from the dockworkers then funneling the money to the Genovese Crime family. Vincent Aulisi, 82, of West Orange, a former president of ILA Local 1235, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his part in the shakedown scheme.

One of Aulisi's co-defendants was Thomas Leonardis, 57, of Glen Gardner, another former president of Local 1235, who also pleaded guilty and now awaits sentencing.

Leonardis had testified during a 2010 hearing on behalf of Lesniak's last measure to dissolve the commission, insisting that the union had purged itself of organized crime influence. Brandishing an old grappling hook used by longshoremen to unload pallets before the advent of containerization, Leonardis testified that the commission's anti-mob mission was as antiquated as that hook.

Arsenault recalled the disgraced union leader's testimony during today's hearing, posing the rhetorical question, "Where is Tom Leonardis now?"

http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/10/bill_to_dissolve_waterfront_commission_approved_by_senate_panel.html


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