Cryan decries federal ruling on Waterfront Commission

State Sen. Joe Cryan

CLARK, NJ — State Sen. Joseph Cryan said he believes New Jersey should be allowed to sever ties with the bi-state regulatory commission created by New Jersey and New York more than 60 years ago to police several sprawling maritime shipping terminals, including Port Elizabeth.

Cryan, who represents Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union in the 20th Legislative District, spoke with LocalSource on June 15 about an injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton on June 1 that stopped New Jersey from leaving the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

Cryan spoke before entering a meeting with several business leaders at a function hosted by the Employer Legislative Committees of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association at the Holiday Inn in Clark.

Former Gov. Chris Christie signed a law on his last day in office to pull the state out of the commission, which oversees employment at the ports, among other responsibilities. One day later, the commission filed a complaint to stop New Jersey from pulling out.

In her ruling, Wigenton cited the Waterfront Commission’s history of stopping “drug trafficking, theft, racketeering, illegal gambling, loan sharking, and murder” in areas where organized crime’s influence is ever-present.

The injunction didn’t sit well with state officials, including Cryan, who was elected in November 2017, and did not vote on the issue.
According to Cryan, New Jersey spent almost $2 billion to raise the Bayonne Bridge to allow taller ships to reach more ports.

“I was disappointed on a couple of different levels,” Cryan said, referring to the injunction. “One, I thought and believe that when New Jersey made its move to remove itself from the Waterfront Commission, it should have been statutorily enough. I also think that, after our investments in the port both from an infrastructure point, the raising of the bridge, the requirements of the larger ships and the obvious economic expansion of the port, to have a detriment to job expansion like the Waterfront Commission. It’s time to move on.

“I’m all for oversight,” he continued. “No one is in favor of crime at the port. But, the Waterfront Commission has clearly gone too far. So, I’m in favor of the dissolution of the Waterfront Commission, certainly with responsible oversight. But enough’s enough.”

Cryan said that 60 percent of the goods transported through the northeastern part of the United States come through these ports. According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s website, a record 6.7 million cargo containers were processed at these ports in 2017.
The state has until July 1 to appeal Wigenton’s ruling to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I know we’re looking at legal options that go with that, and other options as well,” Cryan said, adding that he and his staff have “been in discussions with counsel from the Legislature.”

The Legislature is now being forced to re-engage with the Waterfront Commission, which has hiring and compensation practices that drive up the cost of labor. The commission sometimes takes years to make new hires, according to a recent NJ Advance Media article. It employs a relief work shift policy that has resulted in workers — who aren’t necessarily required to be on site during their paid shifts — earning exorbitant paychecks. The top 100 dockworkers in New York and New Jersey each earn more than $300,000 a year, according to the article.

“It’s an economic engine like no other,” Cryan said. “It’s a source of pride. It’s … one of the underappreciated and undervalued assets in the state of New Jersey. For the economics that it brings, for the job opportunities it creates and, frankly, for what it means on the world stage as well.
“Commerce comes through New Jersey. Commerce comes through Port Elizabeth and it’s a very, very big deal.”