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Reform Candidates Try To Dislodge Top Leaders Of The Machinists Union

The contentious Boeing contract extension offer that machinists narrowly passed earlier this month left many workers unhappy with their union leaders. This Saturday, they’ll have a chance to nominate new candidates for top positions in the union’s national headquarters. 

But the reform candidates face an uphill battle in their effort to dislodge the top leaders. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers hasn’t had a contested election for its highest jobs in more than half a century.

The Department of Labor last year investigated allegations that the union stymied a challenger’s attempt to run for office and found merit to the claim. As a result, the union agreed to hold a new election process under Department of Labor oversight.

`Culture of Privilege'

Jay Cronk worked as a staff member at union headquarters in Maryland until he was fired in November, a week after he declared his intention to challenge the IAM’s Tom Buffenbarger for international president. A spokesman for Buffenbarger says Cronk was fired for being disloyal.

"Things just have been getting worse and worse in terms of arrogance at the top and a culture of privilege within the executive council," Cronk said. 

Cronk points to Buffenbarger’s compensation of more than $300,000 and the union’s private Learjet. Instead, he says the IAM should spend less and reduce members’ dues.

He also says the international leaders didn’t negotiate hard enough with Boeing and didn’t listen to the wishes of the union’s 30,000 Washington members.

"It was a win-win for everybody if it was handled properly, but instead, Boeing was able to strip our members of their defined-benefit pension and at the same time, double or triple their costs for health care," Cronk said. 

A spokesman for Buffenbarger says the leader was concerned about making sure Boeing builds the 777X in Washington state and keeps those jobs here.

A local business representative from District Lodge 751, Jason Redrup, has joined Cronk on the reform ticket. So has Sande Lien, who works for Alaska Airlines in Seattle and has been a member of the IAM for 14 years. 

Cronk says they face an uphill battle but he's optimistic they’ll get through the nomination process. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.