Angry Machinists could seek leaders’ ouster

EVERETT — The turbulence could just be starting for the Machinists union at Boeing, whose members this week overwhelmingly rejected a contract negotiated in secret by the union’s international leaders and company executives.

Rank-and-file members are angry that their local leaders allowed Boeing to force an ultimatum on them: Accept a contract full of concessions, or risk losing the 777X. That ultimatum could lead to a push to oust District 751 leaders, members say. There’s even been talk of leaving the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“Today is the eye of the hurricane — calm after the storm. But the rest of the storm is coming,” said a rank-and-file representative involved in leading District 751. The representative spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

By all accounts, IAM leadership in Washington, D.C., and Boeing representatives kept leaders of Seattle-based District 751 in the dark about the contract talks before presenting the porposal to them less than two weeks ago. The offer called for major concessions — including trading pensions for 401(k) plans and increasing health care costs — in exchange for placing 777X final assembly in Everett and a $10,000 signing bonus, among other promises.

Local union leaders tried to block the Boeing proposal from even being put to a vote by the membership but were overruled by national IAM leaders. The leaders from the East Coast called the shots after that, prohibiting District 751 leaders from speaking publicly about the offer.

District 751’s roughly 32,000 members were caught off guard. It appeared that the local leaders they elected were willing to give up hard-fought economic gains without member consent or similar concessions from labor leaders and Boeing executives.

True, District 751 leaders were excluded from the initial bargaining, but members didn’t see them put up much resistance to the deal that the national union delivered.

“There are some very hard feelings — some of them are mine,” said Paul Veltkamp, a quality inspector on the 747 line in Everett.

Late Wednesday, after the count revealed that union members overwhelmingly rejected the offer, the IAM’s national aerospace coordinator, Mark Johnson, stood to announce the results and was greeted by boos and jeers at District 751’s headquarters in Seattle.

“Maybe for the first time, members in this district have felt that their interests and the international’s interests are not the same,” Veltkamp said. “I don’t know if that’s true. That’s just how people feel.”

Several union members said some in District 751 have even been talking about leaving IAM for another union.

While members’ anger has been largely directed at the international leadership, District 751 leaders, especially President Tom Wroblewski, could face internal challenges.

At one point last week, in front of angry Machinists members, Wroblewski tore up the contract and called it “crap.” But before and after, he was ostensibly neutral, but cast it in a positive light.

“He tore it up Thursday, and taped it back together Friday morning,” the District 751 rank-and-file leader said.

Members might have lost confidence in Wroblewski given his inability to stand up to the international leadership.

“He’s done,” the source said. “I don’t see how he serves out his term.”

Re-elected in 2012, Wroblewski has three more years.

He and other District 751 officials were not talking to media Thursday, according to a district spokesman. It isn’t clear how members can vote out their leaders before their terms end.

“I would’ve followed that man into fire” before the contract offer, said the union member who spoke on condition of not being named.

Issaquah aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton of Leeham and Co. said he has heard the same thing from his Machinists sources, who told him they already have identified a replacement for Wroblewski.

While the long-term economic impact of the dissension isn’t clear, Boeing will benefit, Hamilton said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com.

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