Rare IAM election possible after nominations Saturday

By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer

Members of 85 local lodges of the Machinists union are to decide Saturday if the union will hold a general election for top offices, something that hasn’t happened in more than half a century.

Feb. 25, the incumbents and a slate of reform candidates both got nominations in those locals, which must now vote on whom to endorse. The contested locals include four belonging to District 751 and covering Boeing employees in metro Puget Sound.

If the challengers are endorsed by 25 locals of the the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), that will force a general election.

They picked up at least 14 endorsements already in the first round of nominating, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That means they need to pick up 11 of the 85 contested locals on Saturday to get on the ballot.

The election is a do-over of one held in 2013, during which, the Labor Department determined, the IAM leadership stifled information about the nominating process to discourage competition.

The IAM’s headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The international — so called because the union represents members in the U.S. and Canada — did not post results on its website but did acknowledge that endorsement votes would be required in some locals.

Those include the four local lodges of District 751 covering about 32,000 Boeing employees. Both the incumbents and challengers received nominations from locals A, C, E and F.

Two of the district’s other locals — 1951 in Richland and 86 in Spokane — backed the incumbents, while Local 1123 in Wenatchee didn’t nominate any candidates.

The reform candidates received support across the country, according to Jay Cronk, who tops the slate.

Cronk, a railroad mechanic and former senior staffer at IAM international headquarters, has accused International President Tom Buffenbarger of being more interested in holding on to power than in helping members.

The challengers include Jason Redrup, a business representative with District 751; Patrick Maloney, who works for Boeing in Portland; and Sande Lien, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant based in Seattle.

Cronk said he is “extremely optimistic, but not overly optimistic. I know we still have a fight on our hands.”

Several District 751 members have been supporting the grass roots campaign by contacting other locals to spread the reformers’ message.

The reception has been “somewhat mixed,” said Wilson “Fergie” Ferguson, who works on the 737 flight line in Renton and is president of Local A.

The international retains control over union support services, finances and staffing, meaning union local staff could find themselves out of work if they don’t support the incumbents, he said.

“If we can get the reform ticket on the ballot, I think we’ve got a good chance, because it’s a secret ballot,” Ferguson said.

Rick Sloan, a spokesman for Buffenbarger’s campaign and the IAM’s retired director of communications, dismissed the reform platform as backward-looking.

The incumbents are focused on organizing, improving negotiating strength and electing labor-friendly politicians in this year’s mid-term congressional elections, he said.

“That’s what strategy is,” Sloan said. “All they’re doing is bitching about cronyism.

“It’s all rearview mirror stuff. It’s not looking ahead,” he said.

Cronk has said that the labor movement will continue to suffer setbacks until it reforms its internal politics by focusing more on members’ needs, allowing rank-and-file more access to decision making and being more transparent about how dues are spent.

District 751 members can vote on nominations from 6 to 8 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday at district headquarters at 9135 15th Place S. in Seattle.

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