For the first time in more than 50 years, a group challenging the national leadership of the Machinists union forced a contested election for top positions in the 577,000-member labor group.
The slate of challengers includes two Machinists at Boeing who were spurred to run because the current
leadership supported the recent 777X deal with Boeing management against the wishes of local union officials.
The International Association of Machinists (IAM) held
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runoff nomination votes Saturday at local lodges around the country, and the next day said the challengers had mustered endorsements from more than the minimum 25 lodges needed to force an election.
Though the national headquarters hasn’t yet released the detailed results, people with knowledge of the outcome said all four lodges within District 751, representing local Boeing workers, endorsed the challengers.
The IAM has almost 900 district lodges in the U.S. and Canada, with members working in the railway, airline and auto industries as well as in aerospace manufacturing.
The election is not yet scheduled but must be held before June.
The incumbent leadership, headed for the past 16 years by International President Tom Buffenbarger, also includes former District 751 President Mark Blondin.
The slate of challengers, led by former national headquarters staffer Jay Cronk, includes Jason Redrup, a District 751 staff member, Patrick Maloney, a Boeing Portland Machinist; and Sande Lien, a Seattle-based Alaska Airlines employee with Machinist Local 2202, representing airline workers.
The challengers are pushing against a firmly entrenched leadership. The last time the union held a contested national leadership election was in 1961.
Its membership is down more than 14 percent in the past decade.
Cronk says he would reduce the union’s staff, budget and membership dues.
He criticizes expenses such as Buffenbarger’s private jet. And he alleges the highly paid staff is bloated by nepotism and cronyism.
Federal filings show that in fiscal 2012 Buffenbarger received total compensation of more than $304,000.
Blondin, a general vice president, got $282,000.
Buffenbarger’s 29-year-old son Andrew, who is employed as his special assistant with oversight of the union’s bylaws, got $157,000.
Cronk also promises to reform the union’s election procedures “to ensure legitimate elections every four years.”
However, the odds seem stacked against his group.
Though the official results of Saturday’s endorsement vote are not yet available, Rick Sloan, spokesman for Buffenbarger, cited unofficial figures in an email ridiculing Cronk’s chances in the upcoming election.
“The IAM Leadership Slate led by IP Tom Buffenbarger won the nomination of 97 percent of the local lodges across the IAM; the Cronkettes won 3 percent — less than the margin of error in most polls,” Sloan wrote.
Because many rank-and-file members don’t attend union meetings, a small core of activists largely determines the direction each lodge takes.
Redrup, the District 751 staffer running against the incumbents’ slate, said that at bigger IAM lodges around the country, many officials derive half or full salary from the national union, which therefore wields heavy influence.
“Between the purse strings and their ability to reorganize a local or a district, that puts fear in people to comply with their wishes,” said Redrup.
The International also tightly controls the flow of information to its members.
District 751 was not allowed to put a notification in Aero Mechanic, the union paper, to remind members of the timing of Saturday’s candidate endorsement vote.
Still, the way the national leadership handled the 777X deal with Boeing has stirred vitriolic opposition among local Machinists.
On Friday night outside the Museum of Flight, a small group protested Buffenbarger’s appearance at a ceremony to honor graduates of the joint IAM/Boeing apprenticeship program.
Separately, District 751 has announced that an election to replace just-retired President Tom Wroblewski will be March 6.
The front-runner for that position is Jon Holden, a District 751 official who led strong opposition to the 777X deal among the local staff.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org