For the first time in more than 50 years, a
group challenging the national leadership of the Machinists
union has forced a contested election for top positions in the
577,000-member labor group.
The slate of challengers includes two Boeing
machinists, spurred to run because the current leadership
supported the recent 777X deal with Boeing management against
the wishes of local union officials.
The International Association of Machinists
(IAM) held runoff nomination votes Saturday at local lodges
around the country, and the following day said the challengers
had mustered endorsements from more than the minimum of 25
lodges needed to force an election.
Though the IAM national headquarters hasn’t
yet released the detailed results, people with knowledge of
the outcome said all four lodges within District 751,
representing local Boeing workers, endorsed the challengers.
The IAM has almost 900 district lodges in
the U.S. and Canada, with members working in the railway,
airline and auto industries as well as in aerospace
The election is not yet scheduled but must
be held before June.
The incumbent leadership, headed for the
past 16 years by International President Tom Buffenbarger,
also includes former District 751 president Mark Blondin.
The slate of challengers, led by former
national headquarters staffer Jay Cronk, includes Jason
Redrup, a District 751 staff member, Patrick Maloney, a Boeing
Portland machinist; and also Sande Lien, a Seattle-based
Alaska Airlines employee with Machinist Local 2202,
representing airline workers.
The challengers are pushing against a firmly
entrenched incumbent leadership. The last time the union held
a contested national leadership election was in 1961.
Its membership is down more than 14 percent
in the past decade.
Cronk says he would reduce the union’s
staff, budget and membership dues.
He criticizes expenses such as
Buffenbarger’s private jet. And he alleges the highly paid
staff is bloated by nepotism and cronyism.
Federal filings show that in fiscal 2012
Buffenbarger received total compensation of more than
Blondin, a general vice president, got
Buffenbarger’s 29-year-old son Andrew, who
is employed as his special assistant with oversight of the
union’s bylaws, got $157,000.
Cronk also promises to reform the union’s
election procedures “to ensure legitimate elections every four
However, the odds seem stacked against his
Though the official results of Saturday’s
endorsement vote are not yet available, Rick Sloan, spokesman
for Buffenbarger, cited unofficial figures in an email
ridiculing Cronk’s chances in the upcoming election.
“The IAM Leadership Slate led by IP Tom
Buffenbarger won the nomination of 97 percent of the local
lodges across the IAM; the Cronkettes won 3 percent — less
than the margin of error in most polls,” Sloan wrote.
Because many rank-and-file members don’t
attend union meetings, a small core of activists largely
determines the direction each lodge takes.
Redrup, the District 751 staffer who’s now
running against the International HQ’s slate, said that at
bigger IAM lodges around the country many officials derive
half their salary or their full salary from the national
union, which therefore wields heavy influence.
“Between the purse strings and their ability
to re-organize a local or a district, that puts fear in people
to comply with their wishes,” said Redrup.
The International also tightly controls the
flow of information to its members.
District 751 was not allowed to put a
notification in Aero Mechanic, the union paper, to remind
members of the timing of Saturday’s candidate endorsement
Still, the way the national leadership
handled the recent 777X deal with Boeing has stirred vitriolic
opposition among local machinists.
On Friday night outside the Museum of
Flight, a small group protested Buffenbarger’s appearance at a
ceremony to honor graduates of the joint IAM/Boeing
Separately, District 751 has announced that
an election to replace just-retired president Tom Wroblewski
will be held March 6.
The front runner for that position is Jon
Holden, a 751 official who led strong opposition to the 777X
deal among the local staff.