Turnout low in first IAM general election since 1961

By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer

EVERETT — Machinists union members have been doing something this month that they haven’t done since John F. Kennedy was in the White House: cast votes for who will run their union — long-entrenched incumbents or untested reformers.

Turnout has been low around metro Puget Sound, but union members who have voted “are voting overwhelmingly for the reform ticket,” said a local union staff member with District Lodge 751. The district represents about 33,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), mostly Boeing workers.

The union staffer agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to publicly discuss the election.

“It’s going to be close,” he said, based on conversations he’s had with union officials across the country. “But it looks like the reform ticket might just win.”

District Lodge 751 members finished voting Thursday.

The last time the IAM had a contested general election for a top position was 1961. Since then, incumbents have skipped the ballot box, instead transferring power to hand-picked successors.

The U.S. Department of Labor determined that the union’s headquarters — called the International — in Upper Marlboro, Md., had effectively skewed the nomination process last year to stifle competition. Facing potential legal action, the International agreed to hold the election again.

The reform ticket is led by Jay Cronk, a Machinist in the railroad industry in Connecticut, and includes Jason Redrup, a District Lodge 751 business representative in Everett.

The reformers say the incumbents are more concerned with staying in power and collecting dues than they are with helping members or in transparency.

The incumbents, led by International President Thomas Buffenbarger, say they have protected members’ jobs. But their campaign has mostly countered the reformers’ criticisms with mudslinging, calling the challengers “deadbeats and losers” on its Facebook page.

Most of the voting will wrap up by the third week of April.

Each local lodge has five days after it votes to send sealed results to the International, which will tally them and announce results in early May, IAM spokesman Frank Larkin said.

When those results are published depends on how long tallying takes, he said. As for announcing results, “I’m sure it will be quite public.”

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