Tuesday, August 12, 2014

USDA Refuses to Supply Vancouver Grain Inspectors

By Mark Edward Nero

The US Dept. of Agriculture on Aug. 7 sent a letter to a Port of Vancouver USA grain terminal operator criticizing both the tenant and port for its handling of a situation involving picketing longshore workers and alleged intimidation of federal grain inspectors.

In the letter to terminal operator United Grain Corp., Dept. of Agriculture Administrator Lawrence Mitchell states that federal grain inspectors shall be withheld from the terminal until such a time that the safety of inspectors can be guaranteed.

“I have determined that GIPSA (the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration) will continue to conditionally withhold inspection services at the UGC facility in Vancouver, Wash. because the current safety situation at the Port of Vancouver does not ensure that FGIS (Federal Grain Inspection Service) inspectors will have safe access to the facility,” the letter reads in part.

Mitchell does state, however, that the situation will be reviewed again if and when a safety assessment and risk mitigation plan is received.

The government stopped supplying grain inspectors for the UGC terminal in July, after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee halted the practice of supplying troopers to escort inspectors in and out of the terminal past picketing international Longshore & Warehouse Union members.

Inslee’s office has said it had been previously made clear that the escorts were only a temporary measure meant to give United Grain Corp. time to hammer out a labor contract with the ILWU.

In response to the pulling of the escort, inspectors have refused to enter the terminal, citing safety concerns, leading United Grain to halt grain shipments and effectively shutter operations at the terminal for the time being.

The labor dispute between United Grain Corp. and the ILWU has been ongoing at the port for 17 months and law enforcement escorts of the grain inspectors dates back to September 2013.

The escorts began in response to an incident the prior month when one inspector filed a police report saying that they were verbally harassed while crossing the picket line.