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Machinists Union Leaders Keep Their Posts After Rare Contested Election

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
FILE - Tom Buffenbarger speaks to Boeing Co. workers Wednesday, July 16, 2008, at a strike sanction rally in Seattle.

After a rare contested election, the incumbents have retained their posts at the top of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

International President Tom Buffenbarger kept the position he’s held since 1997 by a margin of two-to-one, according to preliminary results. About 23,500 members voted for Buffenbarger, and about 11,200 voted for IAM Reform candidate, Jay Cronk.

"Our members have spoken and we thank them for their support," Buffenbarger said in a statement. "They overwhelmingly rejected an effort to move this union backwards and we now turn our full attention to moving the IAM forward."

Turnout was low; only about 6 percent of about 550,000 eligible members and retired members voted.

Nine other incumbents held onto their positions, including general secretary-treasurer Robert Roach, Jr.

The reform candidates, led by Cronk, vowed to dispute the election results and lodge a protest with the U.S. Department of Labor. They allege, among a number of charges, that the incumbents illegally threatened union leaders that they could lose their jobs or control over their lodges if they failed to campaign and vote for the incumbents.

"We believed that it was going to be a fair and democratic election and we do not believe that ultimately it was," Cronk said.  

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin disputed their claims and said the union leaders reject allegations of any improper campaigning. He said the results were decisive and IAM leaders are confident the outcome will stand.

Boeing Contract Vote Fueled Reform Effort

Anger over a recent narrowly passed contract extension offer from Boeing by machinists in the Pacific Northwestfueled the effort to oust Buffenbarger and the union’s other leaders. There hadn’t been a contested election for top posts in the union in more than 50 years.

That Boeing dispute prompted two people from the Northwest to run as reform candidates for general vice president: Jason Redrup, a business representative at IAM District 751, and Patrick Maloney, a Boeing machinist in Portland. Sande Lien of Alaska Airlines in Seattle also ran as a reform candidate.

The reform candidates were angry with their union leaders for pushing what they said was a concessionary contract and for holding a vote at a time when many Boeing workers were on vacation.

The union agreed to redo last year’s nomination process after the Department of Labor investigated a complaint and ordered a do-over. Labor Department officials supervised this year’s election.   

The union's last contested election was in 1961, and Redrup says, while he's disappointed, he's proud of what the reform candidates achieved. 

"It was quite a historic event for the union, and I think it opened a door for future members to run for office," Redrup said. 

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.