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New York City area ports shut after longshoremen walk off

In a photo taken Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, a plane departing from Newark Liberty International Airport lifts behind a stack of containers at the Port Newark Container Terminal in Newark, N.J.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
In a photo taken Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, a plane departing from Newark Liberty International Airport lifts behind a stack of containers at the Port Newark Container Terminal in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(Bloomberg) -- New York City’s ports, the busiest on the East Coast, ground to halt after longshoremen walked off the job Friday in an unspecified labor dispute.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said that it “strongly” urged members of International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents port workers, to get back to work, and resolve their differences with the New York Shipping Association. The association represents the terminal operators, ocean carriers, and stevedores. The NYSA negotiates labor agreements with the ILA.

“In the meantime, Port Authority police are actively working to ensure public safety for all of the stakeholders at the port,” the agency said in a statement. “All efforts to resume activity will be undertaken.”  

James McNamara, a spokesman for the ILA, said workers told him they walked off because of interference by the Waterfront Commission in the collective bargaining agreement between the ILA and NYSA. The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor is a bi-state agency that investigates and combats crime on the waterfront. It was set up in 1953.

Waterfront Commission

“They say they’re concerned about their own future jobs because a lot of their fellow members are being harassed by the Waterfront Commission, being subjected to drug tests that aren’t part of the agreement between the ILA and the New York Shipping Association,” McNamara said in a telephone interview.

Workers also told McNamara that the commission was blocking efforts by terminal operators to hire new workers.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” McNamara said of the walk-off. “It’s really a member-driven action.”

Photos posted on the website of WABC-TV 7 in New York City showed long queues of trucks and scores of workers congregating in a parking lot.

While known for its airports, bridges and Times Square bus terminal, the Port Authority owns the busiest port on on the eastern seaboard and the third-largest in the U.S. More than 3 million containers are unloaded at its six terminals each year, serving 23 million customers. The terminals include Port Newark and the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal. The port is one of the largest auto ports in the country, with volumes of more than 400,000 new vehicles annually.

Related: Shipping losses hit lowest mark in 10 years but new threats emerge

The Port Authority functions as a “landlord” and is responsible for port planning and coordination. Private-sector leaseholders are responsible for terminal operations as well as the development of terminal facilities and infrastructure covered by the lease.

Beverly Fedorko, a spokeswoman for the NYSA, said the group was “trying to understand the reason for what appears to be a walkout and will take every measure available to ensure work resumes.”

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