Citing threats from union pickets, state grain inspectors are refusing to enter United Grain Corp.'s export facility at the Port of Vancouver, prompting the company to shut down the largest grain elevator on the West Coast. The latest development in the bitter, 17-month-long standoff between United Grain, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has triggered a new round of finger-pointing, with no solution in sight.
"For all practical purposes, we're shut down," Pat McCormick, spokesman for the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association — whose membership includes United Grain — said Thursday.
It's not the first time the company's operation has experienced interruptions. And shippers may still use other grain terminals in the region. But the full stop of United Grain's operation has prompted national and state agricultural and export interest groups to call on U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to restore inspections by directing federal personnel to take over the work.Why are the state inspectors refusing to do their jobs?
A primary issue in the latest flap over grain inspections is Gov. Inslee's decision in mid- to late-June to stop providing the State Patrol security escorts for state inspectors that he'd ordered last fall. The inspectors had said they were being intimidated and threatened by union picketers while trying to reach United Grain through a gate on the port's east side.And their boss, Governor Jay Inslee, refuses to do anything to protect them.
In an email to The Columbian Thursday, Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee, said the governor originally authorized the security escorts to support inspections, in hopes it would give United Grain and the Longshore union time to negotiate an agreement. Smith said negotiations "during that eight months were unsuccessful, and it became increasingly clear that keeping (State Patrol) escorts in place was not resulting in productive negotiations as intended."Ignoring the 'starving children in Asia' who might need the grain, Governor Inslee used to be a congressman from Eastern Washington (i.e., he used to represent the grain exporters) but lost that seat to a Republican in the 1990s. He moved west of the Cascade mountains to the Seattle area and ran, successfully, for congress in the Seattle area.
Payback. Payoff (to his new financial backers). It's politics.