Divisive Boeing vote spurs local Machinist to seek union office
A local official of the Machinists union is seeking a spot on the national ballot to challenge the union’s entrenched leadership in Washington, D.C.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Highlighting the tension within the Machinists union after last week’s 777X contract vote, a District 751 union official said Thursday he is running against the incumbents in an upcoming national union election.
Jason Redrup, an Everett-based staffer for the International Association of Machinists (IAM) local lodge, will run on the ticket of a small group challenging the entrenched leadership based in Washington, D.C.
If they succeed in getting on the ballot, it will be the IAM’s first contested leadership election in more than 50 years.
Redrup said in an interview that he’s running because the national leadership forced the 777X vote on Boeing’s contract proposal against the wishes of local union officials.
He said the International, as Machinists call their national headquarters, also manipulated the outcome by scheduling the vote for last Friday, Jan. 3, “to minimize the number of senior members who would be there able to vote.”
When union members narrowly voted to approve the contract that freezes Machinists’ pensions but assures the 777X will be built here rather than in a nonunion state, “The International got the result they wanted,” said Redrup.
Many union members — particularly the more experienced, older workers — had added a couple personal days to Boeing’s winter break and were still on vacation Jan. 3.
“If the vote had happened on the 5th or 6th, the outcome would have been totally different,” Redrup said.
The core of active opposition to the contract did come from a cadre of older Machinists. Many younger members are less active in the union, and some expressed more concern about future job prospects than retaining their retirement pensions.
Although the union made provisions for absentee ballots to be submitted via email, only about 23,900 members voted out of roughly 32,000 eligible voters, according to a local district union official. The margin to accept the contract was some 600 votes.
“I believe the vote was undemocratic. That’s why I decided to run,” said Redrup. “I could not sit there and let this go unanswered.”
He said District 751 President Tom Wroblewski directly asked for the vote to be postponed until everyone was back at work, but was overruled by IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger.
The same allegation of vote manipulation is the focus of complaints filed this week by individual Machinists with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Frank Larkin, spokesman for the IAM International, dismissed the charge.
“The claims that thousands of senior members were on vacation and unable or unaware of the vote are simply untrue,” Larkin said. “The vote was one of the most widely publicized in IAM history with unprecedented measures to ensure participation.”
Redrup, 51, is joining the opposition slate of Jay Cronk, a former staffer at the national headquarters who is running against Buffenbarger to be IAM International president.
Buffenbarger, the union’s top official since 1997, had salary and expenses totaling just over $300,000 in 2012, according to federal filings.
Cronk was fired by the International, where he had worked for more than 20 years, just a week after he declared his candidacy.
Rick Sloan, spokesman for the leadership of the International, said Cronk wasn’t fired for daring to run against Buffenbarger, his boss, but because “He had publicly and repeatedly taken positions in opposition to the elected leadership.”
“A union has a right to terminate an employee who is disloyal,” said Sloan.
Redrup, who according to federal filings in 2012 had a union salary and expenses totaling $115,000, said he’s ready to risk his job to fight the International.
“I can go back to being a mechanic on the 767 line,” he said. “I’m OK with that.”
The IAM national-election process begins with nominations of candidates in meetings at local lodges around the country Jan. 25.
Cronk and his slate, including Redrup, must be nominated by at least 25 different union lodges if an election is to be held.
The IAM, which has 750,000 active and retired members, has almost 900 district lodges in the U.S. and Canada.
This nominating process, which requires candidates to have some following beyond their own district, was initially completed a year ago, with no opposing slates successfully nominated.
However, Cronk and others complained to the U.S. Department of Labor that many members hadn’t been properly notified of the nomination meetings. When the Labor Department threatened legal action, the IAM International agreed to a rerun.
If the opposition slate manages to get the required 25 nominations this time, a one-member-one-vote election will be held in April or May.
It would be the first contest for the IAM leadership since 1961.
Sloan said electoral challenges to the incumbent officers are so rare because “usually the people who run against them are flakes and folks who just cannot muster the support required under the IAM constitution.”
Cronk’s group claims International staff routinely campaign for the incumbents around the country, which is not permitted by the union’s constitution.
The divisive Boeing vote, said Redrup, will spur renewed interest in the opposition to the International.
He said the Internet will allow his slate to reach a wide audience among Machinists.
“We don’t have to get on the bus or train and go from location to location to get the word out,” said Redrup.
Sloan, of the International, dismissed the challengers’ chances as “slim to nonexistent.”
He noted that the incumbent slate includes former District 751 president Mark Blondin, now a general vice president at the International.
Blondin is popular among Puget Sound-area Machinists. He led two strikes, in 2005 and in 2008, in which protection of benefits was a major issue.
Sloan insisted that in the nominating process, District 751 will have to choose between the slate with Blondin and the slate with Redrup. “He has to go mano-a-mano against Mark Blondin,” he said.
Subsequently, the Department of Labor, which ordered the election and sets the election rules, disputed that interpretation of the process.
Department of Labor spokesman Mike Trupo said union members “can nominate any eight members for general vice president, regardless of what slate they are on.”
In District 751, it seems likely Blondin and Redrup could both be nominated.
In such a case, if it comes to the vote, Trupo said IAM members here ”could vote for either or both.”
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 9, 2014, was corrected Jan. 10. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that rhe National Labor Relations Board had demanded the new IAM election. It was the Department of Labor.The story has also been revised to include the Labor Department’s interpretation that members will vote for individual candidates, not for slates of candidates.