The union representing Boeing Machinists on Thursday elected Jon Holden to succeed Tom Wroblewski as the new District 751 president.
Holden won with 2,163 votes, against two other candidates who together won 682 votes.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred union activists gathered at the Seattle headquarters of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) after he was sworn in, Holden said the Machinists deserve better than the way Boeing has treated them.
“Our members have a lot of hard feelings these last few months over what they’ve gone through,” Holden said. “We’ve a lot of work to do to accomplish bringing them back together.”
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Holden, 41, a former Teamster at the Safeway grocery warehouse in Bellevue, joined Boeing in 1997 and has been a full-time IAM union rep for 10 years.
He now has the tough job of trying to heal the internal wounds opened up by negotiations with Boeing that in January sealed the 777X project for Everett while freezing the traditional pensions of 33,000 union members.
“We’ll be trying to figure out our relationship with this company moving forward,” Holden said, “But the major focus right now is going to be … getting our members unified.”
In internal union leadership meetings from early November through January, Holden forcefully opposed the Boeing deal.
When a second vote of the membership on Jan. 3 rejected that position and approved Boeing’s offer by a 1 percent majority, it left the union split and weakened.
As district president, Holden will have to reach out to those members who voted to accept Boeing’s offer.
And he must also convince the entire membership that though his team won’t have a new contract to negotiate for a decade, the union is still relevant to their lives.
In an interview after the polls closed Thursday, Holden said the way Boeing conducted the 777X contract negotiations — using the threat of taking away future work to force concessions — had left every Machinist upset with the result.
“It feels like this is the worst of the worst times,” Holden said. “The members are angry about the process they just went through and no matter how they voted, they don’t like the outcome.”
“This deal destroyed pensions for everybody, stagnated wages and destroyed the health care as we know it,” he said.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us to engage the members,” he said.
In a message to the union membership on his election campaign website, Holden acknowledged the damage to the union from “the divisive and destructive events of the last few months” and called for unity.
Outlining his platform on the website, Holden laid out a long-term process of engaging the members more in union affairs as a way to eventually recover the IAM’s strength and heal the divisions.
The local union has traditionally been controlled by a tight clique of activists who attend meetings and share union posts among themselves.
Over the years, isolated dissidents have been unable to break into this inner circle.
Holden promised to increase member participation in the union through town-hall-style meetings, membership conferences and surveys, leadership development, and regular reports to members about ongoing discussions with Boeing.
“Our union can do a much better job of listening and reflecting the will of the membership,” Holden wrote.
Another difficult job facing Holden is to repair relations with the national union, which took a very different stance from District 751 during the 777X negotiations.
In December, representatives of the IAM’s national leaders argued in the media that accepting the Boeing deal would protect jobs, and then forced the second vote against the wishes of the local district leaders, including Holden.
In the bitter aftermath, all four local units of District 751 last month endorsed a slate of candidates challenging the incumbent national leadership in an election set for April.
Holden’s predecessor, Wroblewski, retired last month, citing serious health issues brought on by the stress of the high-pressure 777X standoff.
The rifts that remain — within the membership, between the local and the national union, and between the union and the company — are now Holden’s to bridge.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org