By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer
A slate of reform candidates challenging the Machinists union’s sitting leadership says it picked up enough endorsements from the labor group’s roughly 1,000 local lodges to force its first contested general election in more than a half-century.
To get on the ballot, candidates need to endorsed by 25 locals.
But that is a far higher hurdle than it might seem.
No candidate has done it since 1961, and last year, the U.S. Department of Labor found that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) headquarters stifled information about the nominating process to suppress any real competition.
Local union leaders have said that the international leadership has been able to suppress competition through its firm control over union staff jobs and financial and other resources.
The IAM headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., denies such charges, but the union did agree to hold the 2013 election again rather than fight the Labor Department.
The first round came last month, when lodges nominated candidates for IAM’s top offices. Reformers picked up uncontested nominations from 14 locals. About 85 other locals nominated both the challengers and incumbents, prompting members of those lodges to cast ballots on Saturday.
The contested lodges included four of seven belonging to District Lodge 751, which represents about 32,000 Boeing employees, mostly in metro Western Washington.
Jay Cronk, who tops the reform ticket, said based on early results, at least 13 locals on the East Coast have endorsed his slate.
A spokesman for sitting International President Tom Buffenbarger’s campaign said he couldn’t confirm the results, but that the campaign isn’t concerned.
Cronk said he is “encouraged by members’ support.”
Now, he and other challengers are focused on a general election across the union in April, said Cronk, a railroad mechanic from New Haven, Conn., and a former senior staffer at IAM international headquarters.
He was fired from his staff position when he declared his candidacy last November.
The reform slate includes three members from the Pacific Northwest.
On Friday, a handful of local Machinists protested as Buffenbarger arrived for an event at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Buffenbarger, who has been the union’s International President since 1997, alienated many District 751 activists when he stepped over the local leadership in contract negotiations last year with the Boeing Co.
Machinists opposed to the contract said Buffenbarger weakened their negotiating power by showing Boeing a divided leadership.
Representatives of the union’s international headquarters in Maryland have defended the deal, which traded benefit cuts for the company locating 777X assembly and wing production in Washington state, as the best terms possible.
District members narrowly approved the contract in early January.
“He forced a concessionary contract down our throats,” said Wilson ‘Fergie’ Ferguson, a rank-and-file leader and mechanic on the 737 flightline in Renton.
“It’s time for true trade unionists to stand up and tell the emperor he has no clothes on,” he said.
Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org.