NEWARK, N.J. — A commission overseeing the ports of New York and New Jersey can enforce anti-discriminatory hiring practices, a federal appeals court wrote this week in a ruling that drew upon long-ago images of mob-influenced port corruption depicted in the 1954 movie “On The Waterfront.”

Shipping and longshoremen’s groups had claimed in a 2014 lawsuit that the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor had overstepped its authority when it required shipping companies and other employers to certify prospective employees had been referred under federal and state nondiscrimination guidelines.

A judge in Newark dismissed the lawsuit last year, and the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld that dismissal in a ruling published Tuesday.

Some of the dispute centers on language and intent in the 1950s compact between New York and New Jersey that sought to combat rampant corruption at the ports, immortalized in the film starring Marlon Brando.

The plaintiffs argued that since the compact didn’t specifically mention racial discrimination, “any amendment designed to ensure fair and non-discriminatory hiring practices cannot further the Compact’s purposes and is, therefore, unconstitutional,” the judges wrote.

They called the claim “meritless” and noted the compact’s aim was to rid the docks of corrupt hiring practices.

“Can it seriously be argued that racial discrimination in hiring (or anywhere, for that matter), is not a corrupt practice?” they asked in Tuesday’s opinion.

The New York Shipping Association, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, said in a statement port employers already adhere to fair hiring practices, and that of about 900 new workers hired in the last two years, 60 percent are minorities and more than 400 are veterans.

The association represents terminal operators, ocean carriers, stevedores and marine-related businesses that operate the ships, move the cargo, and train and employ the port’s longshore workers. The New York-New Jersey ports are the third-busiest in the country.

“This case was not about fair hiring practices, as has been portrayed by the Waterfront Commission,” the statement said. “The lawsuit was about the role and demands of the Waterfront Commission, when established government agencies with jurisdiction over fair employment laws already exist.

“The Port of New York and New Jersey operates in a high-cost region. Adding to this cost with duplicate levels of government oversight affects the Port’s ability to maintain its competitive edge in the market.”

Last month, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka led a protest that temporarily brought traffic to a halt at the port hub in Newark, to highlight what he said were discriminatory hiring practices. The NYSA and the longshoremen’s union dispute the allegations.


This story has been corrected to show the year of the lawsuit was 2014, not 2013.