By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer
SEATTLE — District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which represents some 32,000 people who build Boeing airplanes in Western Washington and elsewhere, has a new leader.
Jon Holden, 41, succeeds Tom Wroblewski, who resigned in January, citing health reasons. Holden won 76 percent in voting Thursday, the union said at its headquarters here, and will complete Wroblewski’s term, which runs to 2016. Holden had two competitors, John Lopez and Ray Wilkinson.
“They deserve better than they’ve had,” Holden said of the District 751 membership. “We’re going to give them better than they’ve had.” He promised to give members more access to the union’s decision making process.
Holden spent 11 years as one of the union’s elected business representatives in Everett, a post from which he resigned last month to run for the district’s top spot. Before that, he spent about six years working at Boeing, then about three years as a union organizer, according to one of his supporters, Wilson Ferguson, a mechanic on the Boeing 737 flight line in Renton.
The new president takes over a district still licking its wounds after bitter, emotional contract negotiations at the end of last year.
Boeing said it would have to consider making the 777X airplane outside Washington unless Machinists accepted a benefits-cutting contract, including moving from a traditional defined-benefits pension to contribution retirement plans such as a 401(k).
The offer divided district members and pitted local union leaders against the IAM’s international headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md. But members narrowly approved the contract on Jan. 3.
According to union insiders, the acrimonious fight was too much for Wroblewski, who a couple weeks later announced he would step down at the end of the month.
Wroblewski took over as the district president and directing business representative in 2007 after his predecessor, Mark Blondin, was tapped for a staff job with IAM headquarters. Wroblewski led a strike in 2008 and was twice re-elected, in 2008 and 2012.
Wroblewski has repeatedly declined interview requests.
The labor movement has been in decline across the country for years, and Holden faces an uphill fight in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s largely going to be a defensive battle, if there’s much action at all,” said Jake Rosenfeld, a University of Washington sociology professor who has studied organized labor.
Holden is likely to be more militant than Wroblewski, said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and owner of Issaquah-based Leeham Co.*
“That’s not going to help with the healing process” with Boeing, he said. “I foresee more grievances filed, for whatever reason.”
Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dcatchpole.