Posted by: captainfalcon | November 6, 2010

The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor

The WCNYH is a bi-state agency, founded in 1953 by Congressionally authorized compact between New York and New Jersey, “for the purpose of eliminating various evils on the waterfront in the Port of New York Harbor.” The 2010 annual report highlights how its done in the intervening decades.

Notably, for the first time in years, [the Commissioners] were appointed not because of political patronage but rather, because of their extensive experience in criminal investigations and prosecutions, along with their expansive knowledge of organized crime and corruption.*

There are other juicy nuggets. Two of my favorites:

Loansharks and bookmakers, with the approval of organized crime, continue to deplete the workforce of their hard earned money. The Commission, along with its law enforcement partners, has made significant arrests in both areas and has a number of active investigations as well. Cargo theft, often more sophisticated than in the past, is still a real problem. Workers’Compensation fraud, narcotics importation and terrorism concerns have been added to the enforcement picture….The Commission is particularly concerned with a lack of diversity in the workforce in the Harbor.


The Waterfront Commission takes seriously its responsibility to operate with thrift, accountability and efficiency. In FY 2009-2010, because of the depressed economy in the Port, the collected assessments fell over $430,000 short of budgeted projections. in order to bring the Commission’s assessment and compliance audits to date as recommended by the New York Inspector General’s Report, the Commission retained four outside audit firms. While ensuring that all audits were current, the use of these firms resulted in an unbudgeted cost of over $650,000.

Article IV of the Waterfront Commission Act (accessible from here) enumerates the Commission’s powers. It is realistic about its capabilities; IV(1) grants it the capacity to be sued, and IV(2) gives it “the power…to have a seal and alter the same at pleasure.”

Two of the fundamental mandates of the Commission are to maintain a registry of longshoremen, and to license stevedores (i.e. contractors who employ longshoremen). The point was to eliminate various unsavory employment practices, including the “no-show” retention of longshoremen (where stevedores, under pressure from the Gambinos and Genovese, hired mobsters or suffered increases in their insurance rates) and the “shape-up” method of employment (where longshoremen were hired on an ad hoc basis, ordinarily after agreeing to pay a kick back to the stevedores / mob). The fact that the Commission’s raison d’etre is to keep tabs on longshoremen employment makes the means by which it is financed especially curious:

The Commission is not funded with tax dollars. By law, and in lieu of any charges for the issuance of licenses or registrations, or for the use of Employment Information Centers, the Commission’s budgeted expenses come from assessments on waterfront employers of persons utilized in the handling of waterborne cargo. Employers pay a maximum assessment of 2% on the wages of such employees.

It’s all worth a look.

* The explanation for this embarrassing admission is the publication, last year, of the New York Inspector General’s Investigation of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. It, too, has some good tidbits, especially its treatment of (ex)-Commissioner Madonna (who, for example, was simultaneously president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the person with whom they negotiated terms of employment). Madonna also played a role in diverting detectives from “their law enforcement duties to guard parking spaces designated by the New York City Department of Transportation for Waterfront Commission [the Commission is headquartered in New York] vehicles for use by executive staff,” which did not strike the Inspector General as the best use of resources that were dwindling because it had been fourteen years since the Commission had last licensed a stevedore.



  1. I think the most interesting part is this: “it had been fourteen years since the Commission had last licensed a stevedore.”

    Way to bury the lede.

  2. Also, Season 2 of the Wire is in desperate need of a rewatch.

  3. captainfalcon, ever thought about going into the sleuthing industry? i could see you as an american hercule poirot.

    also, check out this little gem from the Orient:

  4. Oh please. These guys are still up to there old tricks. Paying detectives to guard parking spaces in Manhattan still goes on. They want to implement fair hiring. How can they do that when they hire personal relations for their own jobs. Just check out where John Casey came from. How can they be respected when they don’t practice what they preach. Nothing against the police but why are retired police officers so prevalent in the waterfront. PBA relations should not be what qualifies you for a job. It’s all about double dipping pensions!

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