State grain inspectors entered United Grain Corp.’s Vancouver facility Tuesday afternoon for the first time since refusing to cross the picket lines out of fear for their safety.
The tentative labor agreement struck between Northwest grain terminal operators and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union late Monday night paved the way for grain inspections halted in July to resume. In the absence of the inspections, United Grain had virtually ceased operations.
The agreement comes at a critical time, the state’s Agriculture Director Bud Hover noted, with the state’s farmers in the midst of grain harvest.
The end of an 18-month impasse will allow “the flow of grain to resume,” Hover said in a statement.
Members of the Longshore union still need to ratify the terms of the contract. The results are to be announced on Aug. 25.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Tim Leavitt were among the local officials who reacted positively to the tentative agreement.
Inslee, who had decided to no longer allow Washington State Patrol officers to escort grain inspectors through picket lines, said the prospect of a new contract was “outstanding news.” In pulling the State Patrol services for inspectors, the governor said it was clear after eight months of police presence, “keeping WSP escorts in place was not leading to productive negotiations, as intended.”
The governor had intended to increase the pressure on the two sides to end the dispute and with peak harvest season approaching, according to Jaime Smith, the governor’s spokeswoman. Without escorts, the state’s Agriculture Department stopped sending grain inspectors to the facility and the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to fill the void. The state employees inspect and certify the grain before it is exported.
More than a year ago, Leavitt wrote a letter urging both sides to return to the bargaining table in an attempt to increase pressure.
Tuesday’s news means people can “get back to work here in our community,” Leavitt said.
But as they resume operations, Glen Squires, the CEO of the Washington Grain Commission, said it will be crucial for the region to rebuild its reputation as a reliable supplier.
“The fact that it happened and it went on for so long … It basically sent the wrong message to our buyers,” Squires said.
State Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said he was pleased “cooler heads prevailed.”
“Grain growers in my legislative district, across Central and Eastern Washington and even those outside our state can continue to bolster our state’s economy without concern that our export partners will find a more dependable source for the products they need,” he said.