The U.S. Department of Agriculture is claiming that it is unsafe for grain inspectors to work at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., where members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been locked out of a United Grain Corp. grain elevator since Feb. 27.
While the union and the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which includes United Grain, are continuing to negotiate a new labor agreement, Edward Avalos, the USDA’s under secretary of marketing and regulatory programs, told Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, in a letter dated Monday that “USDA does not believe that the situation at the Port of Vancouver would ensure safe access to the UGC facility for the GIPSA [Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration], and, therefore, is conditionally withholding official grain weighing and inspection services at this time.”
John Todd, vice president and operations manager of United Grain, wrote in a letter to Stallman that “there is no evidence of any incidents entering or exiting the United Grain terminal that justifies termination of inspection services."
Todd said the federal government, through the USDA’s grain inspection service, is “using the pretext of safety concerns as justification for a political decision to deny essential inspection services.”
He said when the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which provides inspection services for the USDA, expressed concerns about threatening behavior by picketers at the gate to the United Grain terminal at the Port of Vancouver, the organization offered a variety of options to provide inspectors secure entry and exit from the facility, and that the state inspectors engaged escort service from Washington State Patrol officers.
But in July, the Washington State Department of Agriculture said it would no longer provide grain inspection services to United Grain, asserting that ILWU members have engaged in “threatening and intimidating behavior” and that this posed “unacceptable risks to the safety” of Washington Stated Department of Agriculture personnel.
The Port of Vancouver said those assertion were unfounded.
United Grain said yesterday that when two safety experts from the
Federal Grain Inspection service did a safety assessment on July 17, they
were reassured that access through the gate is safe.
inspection service is damaging our business and threatens the farmers
and customers we service,” said Todd. “But even more troubling is
GIPSA’s collusion with Washington state officials using the pretest of
safety concerns as justification for a political decision to deny
essential inspection services.”