Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wash. Sen. Slams Stoppage
of Port Inspector Escorts

By Mark Edward Nero

Wash. State Sen. Don Benton has sent a letter to the state’s Executive Ethics Board alleging that Gov. Jay Inslee broke the law when he halted the practice of state troopers escorting grain inspectors past picketing longshore workers and into the Port of Vancouver.

In his June 30 letter, Benton (R-Vancouver), argues that by removing the security escort, the governor is “forcing” terminal operator United Grain Corp. to negotiate with the union.

“Gov. Inslee has unlawfully involved himself in a labor dispute,” Benton wrote in the letter. “He has also failed in his basic obligation to ensure the safety of public employees in the performance of their duties. By his failure to act, he has jeopardized a multibillion dollar industry in our state.”

Law enforcement began escorting the grain inspectors, who are state employees, in September 2013. The escort’s origins date back to when one inspector filed a police report in August 2013 saying that they were harassed while crossing the picket line.

Inslee pulled the escort on July 7, and his office said it had been previously made clear that the escort was only a temporary measure meant to give United Grain Corp. time to hammer out a labor contract with the International Longshore & Warehouse Union.

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.

United Grain says it had been scheduled to ship 17 million bushels in August, and that the grain-shipping season is expected to ramp up in September. The company says it was able to get waivers on the inspections for two shiploads of grain, equal to about three million bushels of product, but that ships were delayed up to 11 days while undergoing the waiver process.