Senate GOP power player wants Inslee punished over labor dispute

Don Benton complains to the state ethics board that the governor is has stopped providing police escorts in a labor dispute. But the sheriff in Benton's home county doesn't believe escorts should be provided to help business or labor gain leverage.
Sen. Don Benton

Sen. Don Benton John Stang

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, wants a state ethics board to investigate and punish Gov. Jay Inslee for removing Washington State Patrol escorts from grain inspectors at a Port of Vancouver labor lock-out site.

The Washington State Executive Ethics Board must first decide whether it has jurisdiction before assigning an investigator. The jurisdiction question is expected to be answered in a few days.

Benton, deputy majority leader of the Majority Coalition Caucus -- an alliance of 24 Republicans and two Democrats that controls the state Senate -- sent his unusual written complaint to the executive ethics board on Wednesday. Inslee spokesman David Postman had not seen the complaint as of Friday afternoon, and declined to comment on its specifics.

Benton wrote, "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. 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." 

The bitter labor dispute is taking place at the Port of Vancouver's United Grain Corp.'s export facility. International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local No. 4 and United Grain began negotiating a new contract in August 2012. In February 2013, United Grain locked out its union workers, alleging one of them tried to sabotage machinery at the site. Since then, the facility has used non-union employees, while a nasty labor showdown erupted with the National Labor Relations Board alleging misconduct on both sides.

The Washington State Patrol provided escorts for Washington Department of Agriculture's grain inspectors visiting the facility for eight months, Postman said. Inslee had hoped that the two sides would resolve their differences during that period. In late June, the governor discontinued the escorts because the labor battle had not been resolved. In early July, the state agricultural department decided to stop the inspections due to safety concerns. In turn, that stopped grain shipments from the facility.

"Governor Inslee is effectively forcing a private corporation to shut down until it negotiates with its union," Benton complained to the ethics board. He said United Grain Corporation has offered to pay for county or state law enforcement to escort the state grain inspectors. Benton continued, "In failing to ensure the safe conduct of grain inspectors, Governor Inslee intentionally refrains from a duty imposed upon him by law."

But the Clark County sheriff has also reportedly declined to provide escorts.

On July 23, Benton sent a letter to Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke to request sheriff's deputies as escorts for the state grain inspectors. He wrote that letter as deputy majority leader of the state senate.  Benton and Mielke's professional relationship is complicated. In May 2013, Mielke and fellow commissioner David Madore — both donors to Benton's 2012 re-election campaign — appointed him as the director of the Clark County environmental services division despite Benton's apparent lack of qualifications for the job.

The county commission formally asked that the sheriff's department provide escorts, the Columbian newspaper reported. However, Sheriff Garry Lucas declined to provide deputies for the inspectors  -- even if United Grain paid for their time -- because he believes law enforcement should be neutral in a labor dispute, the Columbian reported Tuesday.

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 4:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Don Benton on ethics is about like Ted Bundy on feminism. Consider: He is taking the part of a foreign company that has locked out its American employees, many of them no doubt Benton's own constituents, after refusing to bargain with them in good faith. Inslee told all parties that the escorts would be temporary. He wanted management and ILWU back at the table. The company has refused. Benton is a posturing clown. Even the Columbian, hardly a liberal newspaper, has had enough of him.

ivan

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

Spoken like a true King County Democrat central committee member Mr. Weiss. The fact that the government grain inpsectors felt threatened by the ILWU members to the point that they required a police escort should tell you something about the way the union views "bargining in good faith."

Cameron

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I see. So in your mind, locking them out is bargaining in good faith?

ivan

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 12:10 p.m. Inappropriate

After what happened in Longview, yes. When you use force and intimidation against government workers who are trying to simply do their job to further your negotiation "stance", yes you have gone too far. What about the AG community they are preventing from meeting their contractual committments? Not only is the union disrupting the terminal operations, they are keeping people overseas from getting the products to nourish their people.

Cameron

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 6:25 a.m. Inappropriate

You're a real prize, Cameron, honest you are. If the grain operator had not locked its ILWU employees out in the first place, there wouldn't BE any picket lines. They'd all be working. DUH! You are entitled to your own opinion, of course, but not to your own facts. The lockout happened well before the alleged "intimidation," and if you can document any incidents of "force," I'd like to see them. But of course, you can't. You just pulled them out of that nice warm dark brown place you pull everything else from.

ivan

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

To term Don Benton a "power player" as in your headline is a gross exaggeration. He's a tool, literally in this case.

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 11:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Per state law it is a felony to intimidate a state worker, and the port operator is picking up the costs of the escort. The fact that state ag. inspectors are being intimidated by the Longshoreman and that Inslee has declined to help says a lot about the level of corruption in this state.

The ILWU is the closest we have to a government sanctioned racket. The ILWU member’s pay is around $150-200K/year, they limit membership to family members (white male - otherwise you do not get hours), and use violence to get their way.

Shame on Inslee.

Posted Sat, Aug 2, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

What do you know of the Sheriff of Clark County? Is he a "power player"?

Why does the Sheriff refuse to protect state employees trying to do their jobs (protecting the jobs of farmers and the health of consumers)? That seems to be the problem here.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 6:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Two seconds of searching via Google would have given you your answer. Sheriff Lucas explained his position in a letter to the Columbian:
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“My position is that the law enforcement role is a neutral enforcement role that preserves the peace, protects life and property, and protects the rights of the parties as it relates both to the law and the Constitution of the United States,” Lucas wrote in the letter dated Tuesday. “It becomes difficult to maintain neutrality when a police agency is a contractor/employee of one of the parties.”

The Columbian story continues: As a result, Lucas wrote, there’s “an established framework of law” by which management-labor conflicts may be resolved. He urged United Grain and the Longshore union to “avail themselves of that framework.” However, he wrote, “I will not become the employee of either side.”
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Plus the sheriff has to be re-elected, and as difficult and as uncomfortable as it might be for some of you conservatives to understand, the locked-out longshore workers enjoy broad public support in the Columbia River communities. I hope this is helpful.

ivan

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

So, are the inspectors (or their employer the State) a party to this dispute? Are they undeserving of the protection of the Sheriff's employees because . . .

I think not. The inspectors probably are more neutral than the Sheriff in this matter. They do useful work. They are threatened, they should be protected.

simorgh

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Speaking of "Warm brown places" that Ivan resides and gathers his facts from, apparently he is at odds with the reports of threats and violence as reported by the WSP and the Vancouver Police and cited here by a Union blog.

http://transportworkers.org/node/1107

Cameron

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh look, the Columbian cites threats and intimidation by the Longshoremans union in their rebuke of the Governors actions.

http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/jul/28/inslee-action-goes-wrong/

Cameron

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 2:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Whatever happened or did not happen, the lockout happened first, and the lockout caused this whole flap. That fact doesn't change, no matter how much you try to ignore it. No lockout, no pickets. End of story.

ivan

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Call it what you will, it doesn't justify intimidating government inspectors performing their official health and safety functions. I guess you can rationalize just about anything in defense of your union bias. Why should anyone else follow the law when the unions refuse to? The place to address any greviences is in front of a judge and the courts, not threatening others. Apparently that is not the way you feel...typical.

Cameron

Posted Sun, Aug 3, 6:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Ivan: Think like a parent, one of the children screams "BUT SHE STARTED IT". Doesn't matter, the parent says, just stop fighting. If you want to argue, or bargain, or picket or whatever, just do it. But no Fighting, and if the fighting (violence) threatens government inspectors that should STOP!!!

The Sheriff is not neutral in this. His job is to protect the innocent. He should be voted out of office if he doesn't appreciate that.

simorgh

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 2:34 p.m. Inappropriate

http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/aug/12/tentative-agreement-reached-nw-grain-terminal-disp/
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So in the end, just like I said there would be, there is a settlement. The company gave in on some issues, and so did the union. Once the members ratify the agreement, the lockout will end, the longshore workers will be back on the job, and the grain will move. The sheriff will be re-elected.

ivan

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