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August 4, 2014 at 8:08 AM

State’s papers: Inslee tactic at Vancouver boosts union at expense of ag industry

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

United Grain Corp. terminal at Port of Vancouver.

Newspapers across the state are chiming in against Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to choke off exports from the biggest grain terminal in the West, right on the eve of the wheat harvest. As described in a July 28 Seattle Times editorial, the governor’s unfortunate decision boosts the International Longshore and Warehouse Union at the expense of the grain-growing industry – which is worth $1 billion to Washington state alone, and more than that to other states.

Inslee has withdrawn State Patrol protection for state grain inspectors at the United Grain Corp. terminal, the biggest export facility in the west, where locked-out longshore workers are maintaining a picket line. Without protection, the state Department of Agriculture won’t send the inspectors — it says the union pickets have threatened and harassed its crews. Without the inspectors, the wheat exports can’t leave the port, except in rare cases. The terminal is essentially shut down.

Good news for the union in its contract talks, but rotten timing for agriculture. Harvest is about to begin. The grain needs to get through. The grain terminal is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the exports from the Pacific Coast, but all grain farmers stand to lose because of market disruption. That’s because lower commodity prices may be the result. If Inslee’s decision boosts “working people,” as the state Labor Council argues, there aren’t many of them. The union staffs 44 positions. Meanwhile, Inslee creates hardship for many, many more hardworking farm families across the United States and for an entire farm economy that depends on the smooth flow of exports.

Other newspapers see it the same way. Negative notices are unanimous. The (Vancouver) Columbian says Inslee rewards “thuggish” behavior by labor:

Inslee, who was elected in part because of strong support from a variety of unions, has turned a tenuous situation into an unworkable one for the benefit of the ILWU. And in the process he has allowed intimidation tactics to give the union the upper hand.

This not only is harmful to the situation at the Port of Vancouver, but it sends a dangerous message to other unions and other companies throughout the state. Allowing thuggish behavior to triumph in labor disputes only invites future trouble and simply enables unions to view threats as an appropriate tactic. If harassment is allowed to alter the discussion between United Grain and the ILWU — and questions arise as to why state troopers did not address any harassing behavior — it will embolden other unions to embrace similar strategies.

The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review calls Inslee’s decision rash:

Closure of the Port of Vancouver grain elevators not only threatens to interrupt export of Washington’s $1 billion crop, national farm groups are warning that the unprecedented breakdown of inspection activities at the port could endanger foreign buyer confidence in the reliability and integrity of the U.S. inspection system… Washington ports are fighting against other West and Gulf coast ports, including those in Canada, for cargo – grain, coal, cars, whatever. If our ports are not dependable, farmers from South Dakota… can exercise other options.

The Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla says agriculture deserves the same solicitude Inslee extends to Boeing and Microsoft:

Inslee needs to put the interests of the entire state — Eastern and Western Washington — ahead of politics and a labor dispute. The state needs to find a way to get the labor issues resolved or resume providing security for grain inspectors.

The (Portland) Oregonian says Inslee is applying pressure tactics at the wrong time:

By taking his action just weeks before the start of the annual wheat harvest, Inslee has pushed the stakes too high. Wheat is to eastern Washington and Oregon what Intel and Nike are to the Portland area or what Microsoft and Boeing are to the Seattle area – the economic foundation of the region. …It’s time to harvest wheat and to harvest a new labor agreement. And it’s the wrong time for the governor to be involved.

Meanwhile, the state Labor Council issued a broadside – a signed blog post from President Jeff Johnson – that denounces The Seattle Times for siding with agriculture instead of the labor union, and accuses the newspaper of “biased opinions” (as if there is another sort).

Once again The Seattle Times shows their absolute disdain for working people — never a thought for the workers and their families who have suffered 17 months of job loss and economic uncertainty — but instead the Times’ concern is getting this non-perishable commodity to market — money,  money, money.

“Shame on The Seattle Times. Their unabashedly biased opinions are not worth the paper they are printed on.”

Comments | Topics: grain terminal, Jay Inslee, labor council

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