Machinist: Boeing meddling with election

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, September 26, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

By BRYAN CORLISS

Herald Writer

EVERETT — An electrician at the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company, saying it is interfering in his campaign for a post within the Machinists Union.

The company is trying to keep in place a union leadership group that enjoys a cozy relationship with Boeing’s managers, Marysville resident Chuck McClain said.

"It certainly looks that way," he said. "If the company does something like this … then they must have a vested interest."

Union president William Johnson, however, wrote the claim off to pre-election maneuvering by an opposition faction.

"Every time we go into an election there’s a group of people who go to the labor board" to claim unfairness, Johnson said. "This doesn’t surprise me."

McClain faxed his complaint to the National Labor Relations Board early Tuesday. An NLRB spokesman in Seattle said it has been assigned to an investigator.

McClain’s complaint charges that Boeing has "interfered with, restrained and coerced" him by throwing up roadblocks to his campaign for a business representative’s post with the International Association of Machinists’ and Aerospace Workers’ District Lodge 751.

Business representatives are union employees, elected from the membership, who represent workers in disputes with the company. The union will elect 15 business representatives, along with three dozen district council members, in voting over the first two weeks of October.

Successful candidates in that election then will be qualified to run for the district’s top offices in the winter.

In memos to union leadership and to company managers, Boeing vice president for employee and union relations Jerry Calhoun said company policy does not allow campaigning for any kind of office, union or otherwise, on company property.

The memo to the union, dated Sept. 20, specifically says parking lots and cafeterias are off limits to anyone distributing documents, circulating petitions or asking for votes face-to-face.

"If you read it, I can’t even let people (I work with) know I’m running," McClain griped.

But furthermore, McClain claimed, the company’s enforcement of the policy has been one-sided: Supporters of candidates backed by incumbent IAM District President Bill Johnson have been allowed to circulate freely within the Everett plant to campaign, while he and fellow members of an opposition group say they’ve been restricted.

Boeing spokesman Peter Conte said the company has not seen McClain’s filing. But he flatly denied the accusation that it is meddling in the Machinists’ vote.

"The company does not take any sides in union elections," he said.

And Calhoun’s memo merely reiterated Boeing’s long-standing policy regarding political activity of any kind on company property, he said. Campaigning is not allowed, and the company and the union have been over that "countless times" over the years.

Vice President Al Gore’s campaign appearance at the plant was approved under provisions allowing access to elected federal officials, Conte said. Republican challenger George W. Bush’s appearance on Boeing property was a specially considered exception to the rule, Conte said.

The IAM’s Johnson, who plans to retire and is not seeking re-election, also denied working with the company to rig the vote.

"We haven’t had any dialog with the company" about the election, he said.

There’s no truth in the charge that candidates from the opposition group are being prevented from campaigning, he said.

And, he noted, Boeing has a right to set policies for what happens on its property.

An NLRB investigator will look into the allegations and issue a report to the regional administrator, who will decide whether there has been any violation of labor laws, said Ray Willms, the agency’s assistant regional administrator in Seattle.

However, he noted, his agency usually doesn’t get involved in policing union elections. That’s more the job of the Department of Labor.

Whatever the outcome, it’s not likely that the investigation will be completed before voting starts at Puget Sound-area locals on Oct. 5, Willms said.

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