New Jersey Blocked From Exiting Bistate Harbor Patrol

Depicting union corruption at the New York Harbor, the 1954 film “On the Waterfront” came out one year after the Empire and Garden states set up a bistate commission to patrol those very ports. (Image via Columbia Pictures)

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – Keeping the lights on at an agency that has patrolled the ports against mobsters and crooked union officials for half a century, a federal judge blocked New Jersey from unilaterally shutting down the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

From the court system to the silver screen, where corrupt union activity at the docks was famously depicted in the Oscar-winning film “On the Waterfront,” the harbor’s sordid history has long documented.

Just this month, five years after dockworker union officials pleaded guilty to extorting Christmastime bonuses from union members, several alleged Genovese crime family men pleaded guilty as part of “Operation Fistful” to loan sharking and money laundering.

The Garden and Empire states jointly established a Waterfront Commission in 1953 to both sides of the New York Harbor, but a perception that the commission is outdated and hampering economic growth has sparked some insurrection in recent years.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation on Jan. 15, 2018 — to defund the agency, transferring its powers over New Jersey ports to the State Police, despite opposing similar bills throughout his tenure and claiming that no one state could not pull out of the compact.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton reached the same conclusion Wednesday, writing that both states would need to sign off on dissolving the commission.

“Ultimately, the parties’ course of performance over the past sixty-five years supports the understanding that any change to the compact, including withdrawal, requires concurrent legislation,” she wrote.

Attorneys for the commission at Proskauer Rose did not immediately return an email seeking comment. Meanwhile at the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, spokesman Leland Moore said only that the state is reviewing Wigenton’s decision “weighing our options.”

In their 2018 complaint, the commission argued that New Jersey’s bill would drive experienced longshoremen away from dock work while also hampering its ability to police the harbor.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton granted the commission an injunction in June, finding it was in the public interest for the bistate commission to continue policing the docks. 

The commission is funded entirely by a 2 percent payroll tax on terminal operators, and Wigenton noted that the commission’s funding would be reduced by 90 percent if New Jersey were allowed to pull out.

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