Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, has written a letter to a state ethics board alleging that Gov. Jay Inslee acted improperly when pulling back state troopers last month who were escorting grain inspectors into the Port of Vancouver.
The question of trooper escorts has come up in the middle of a protracted contract battle between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) at the port and the United Grain Corporation. Grain inspectors have reportedly been threatened by union workers, who have been locked out since February 2013.
“During the last month, Governor Inslee has unlawfully involved himself in a labor dispute, using his executive authority in an attempt to force a private corporation to negotiate with a labor union,” Benton wrote in a Wednesday letter to the Executive Ethics Board. “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.”
“By removing the security escort, however, Governor Inslee is effectively forcing a private corporation to shut down until it negotiates with its union,” Benton added.
Jennifer Sargent, spokeswoman for the ILWU, said Inslee made the right decision.
“Gov. Inslee did the right thing by returning public law enforcement to their rightful position as a neutral party in a labor dispute,” Sargent wrote in an email. “Washington taxpayers should never have been forced to provide private security to a private Japanese corporation in the first place.”
But Pat McCormick, spokesman for United Grain Corporation, said neutral parties other than grain inspectors, like the river pilot and customs agents, have been able to enter the port without any issues.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee, declined to comment on Benton’s complaint.