IAM Union Members Call on Labor and Its Allies to Mount a Campaign to Nullify January 3 Vote and to Hold a New Vote
On November 13, the 31,000 members of District 751 of the International Association of Machinists in Washington state, rejected by a 2–1 margin the concessionary contract put forward by Boeing Corp.
No sooner was this vote taken, however, than a whole array of forces hostile to the trade union movement ganged up on the members of District 751 to demand that they reverse their vote, lest the company decide to pack up and move its production and assembly facilities out of Washington state to one of 21 alternative sites across the country. An article in the January 8 Wall Street Journal explained:
“Just about every elected Democrat and other official in the state of Washington essentially demanded that the union vote again and accept Boeing’s terms. That includes Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, the mayors of Seattle and Everett, the executive of Snohomish County, state and federal legislators, and a conspicuously involved U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
“That includes the Seattle Times editorial board and a who’s who of local educators, charities and business leaders. It even includes prominent out-of-state Democrats, such as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and California‘s Jerry Brown, who rushed out incentive packages to lure 777X jobs to their own states.”
The Wall Street Journal article went on to quote a local union leader who complained about the company’s blackmail and union-busting tactics and who noted that, “[t]he company, the politicians, the media and others — who truly had no right to get into our business — were all aligned against us.”
District 751 Leadership Unanimously Opposed a Re-Vote
Bending to the company’s pressures, the IAM International leadership announced a re-vote on January 3 of a contract-extension proposal made public by Boeing a week earlier that was almost identical to the one that District 751 members had rejected in November. The website of District 751 informed its members that, “IAM International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger ordered the vote on December 21 over objections of District 751’s elected officials.”
Jason Redrup, an elected Business Representative in IAM District 751 at Boeing, representing 2,500 workers on the 787 line at the Everett facility, told the Labor Fightback Network that, “in the opinion of the leadership of our local union, there were no real changes to the offer that the members had already rejected.”
Redrup continued: “Tom Wroblewski, our District 751 president, told our members that we were not going to vote on an offer that did not significantly improve upon what we had already turned down. But a day or two before the Christmas shutdown of the plant — on December 21 — we were told that the re-vote date had been set for January 3. Our International president said there was an improved offer by the company and the members needed to vote on it.
“Despite our strong objections to voting again and after making numerous requests to our International leadership to move the vote date by one business day from Friday, January 3 to Monday, January 6, we were ordered to keep the vote on January 3. We knew that between 2,500 and 3,000 union members were still on vacation and would not be back at work till that Monday.
“Our International leadership insisted the vote date had to be on January 3 because in the middle of the following week Boeing would be making a big announcement.
“The problem with the 3rd of January is that those 2,500 to 3,000 union members who were on vacation also happened to be, by and large, the members who had more time with the union, had a lot of seniority, understood the pension issue, had been on strike numerous times, and knew what was at stake with the new supposedly improved contract. And these union members were not given the opportunity to vote. I believe that a very high percentage of these members would have voted against the contract. With their participation, the contract would most likely have been defeated.”
“A Very Destructive Contract”
But this second time around the contract proposal was not defeated. The company had achieved its objective.
On January 3, the Boeing workers — with a company gun held at their heads — voted by a 51–49 percent margin to support the company’s contract proposal — a 600-vote difference in a 31,000-member bargaining unit. It is important to note that nearly 8,000 members didn’t vote; in reality 38 percent accepted the concessions.
The turnaround from the November 13 vote was the result of both the exclusion of a significant number of District 751 members from the contract vote, but also of the two-week campaign of misinformation, extortion and threats by the company and its hangers-on.
The Wall Street Journal’s January 8 article titled, “Why Boeing’s Win Matters” conveyed the sense of relief felt in all the corporate boardrooms across the country following this vote. “The reversal may have already delivered the most important business story of 2014,” the article stated.
But while the bosses and the business press gloated, the District 751 members were angrier than ever.
“This is a very destructive contract,” Redrup said. “It sets us back 75 years in our collective bargaining, eliminating our pensions, more than doubling our medical costs, freezing the starting wages at Boeing to what in eight or nine years will be a minimum wage, and more. And we will not have the ability to negotiate a starting wage for the four lowest grades; they will be frozen for almost a decade. For an airline worker — which is supposed to be a highly skilled job — this is outrageous.”
Redrup continued: “Over the extended period of this new contract, our members will be effectively experiencing a pay cut. Our members will not have income security in their retirement. There will be fewer workers in the plant at the end of the contract, as the new contract introduces provisions to allow for outsourcing our jobs. And we will be kept from returning to the bargaining table until 2024.
“It’s important for the labor movement across the country to understand that this Boeing contract in Washington state is detrimental to all of labor. Our contracts up here have been the bellwether to measure against others. Our members have fought very hard and struck — in 2005 and 2008 — for pensions and for rights benefiting people who don’t even work here.
“Now the road is clear for the bosses to get rid of pensions for public and private sector unions nationwide. When you go out and try to organize a new shop, you’ll be told, ‘Hey, the Machinists gave up their pensions, why do you want to fight for pensions?’ We are not just talking pensions for new hires, but giving up pensions for all Machinists under this Boeing contract in 2016.
“Also, keep in mind that this is not a company that was going bankrupt; it’s a company that’s extremely profitable, with record sales.
“And there’s another thing: Re-opening the contract as they did is another dagger at the heart of the labor movement. We are still under contract till 2016. By reopening the contract, the company took away our ability to strike the company if we disagreed with the contract. They literally put a gun to our heads, and we had no way to fight back.
“Our membership was put in an unbearable situation with their threats — either you vote for this, or you’re all going to lose your jobs. What company in the United States would not love to do this to any and all organized workers?”
“An Undemocratic Vote that Must be Nullified”
But the members’ sense of outrage over this destructive contract was magnified by the fact that the contract would have in all likelihood been rejected had all District 751 members been allowed to vote. Brother Redrup explains:
“A lot of our members did change their vote, but we had thousands of members who weren’t allowed to vote. Up to 3,000 members were denied the right to vote. Again, I believe the outcome would have been different had the vote been held on the date we proposed.
“I have heard it said that the vote was democratic because the International made a concession to us when they allowed workers on vacation to vote by absentee ballot, something we had never done. Details of this process were not even announced until December 26, when many were already out of town. Again, despite our strong opposition to the January 3 vote, we had made this proposal in an attempt to give those members who were not in the area a chance to weigh in.
“But this did not work. Putting aside the fact that by casting an absentee ballot workers were not able to discuss collectively in a union setting or on the shop floor the details of the new proposal by the company, the fact is that only a very small number of members sent in their votes.
“People on vacation were not necessarily near a computer and therefore were not notified that a new vote was scheduled on January 3. Also, because this was a totally new voting process, many people were suspicious of it. For example, you had to scan your photo ID, meaning your driver’s license, and people said, ‘Hey, I’m not giving my personal information out on a computer!’
“The claim that everyone was notified and had the right to cast their vote is blatantly and demonstrably false. Our members have raised this matter in numerous National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Complaints. We need to nullify the January 3 contract and to defeat this contract in a new vote. If this is allowed to stand, it’s a dagger against every union contract in this country.”
Join Us to Demand that the NLRB Nullify the Jan. 3 Vote and Hold a New Vote
Though the challenges ahead are immense, the struggle of the District 751 Boeing workers is not over. A core group of IAM members in Washington state has initiated a petition campaign to demand that the NLRB nullify the January 3 vote and demand that the union hold a new vote in which all members are able to participate. Already thousands of District 751 members and leaders and activists from a whole array of unions across the country have signed the petition demanding a new vote. In addition, 13 NLRB Complaints have been filed.
We encourage union members and community activists across the country to sign this petition and to forward it widely to your friends, family and co-workers for their support. To sign this online petition click here.
Let us help the embattled IAM District 751 members gather thousands of signatures on this petition; let us make it impossible for the NLRB to ignore or dismiss this plea for justice and respect for basic trade union rights.
Finally, we call upon our union sisters and brothers to reflect carefully upon the following: The District 751 members rejected the contract by a two-thirds majority. This was their clear mandate. It is not the province of anyone — not the politicians, not the business press, not the International union leadership — to overturn their democratic vote.
The role of the trade union movement should have been to respect and support the November 13 mandate of the Boeing rank and file. The trade union movement in Washington state and nationally could have and should have told the Boeing workers, “We’ve got your backs. If the company threatens to move one single piece of machinery out of state to build its 777X jetliner, we will mobilize the full strength of our unions — by any means necessary, including plant occupations — to prevent this from happening. We will not allow a corporation to destroy the collective-bargaining rights of our sisters and brothers. If they can do this at Boeing, they will do it everywhere else. An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!”
Reclaiming our trade unions for struggle so that we can defeat the corporate offensive will require building a movement to ensure that democracy prevails within our trade unions. To reverse the concessionary wave, we will need — more than ever — trade union independence, solidarity and…democracy.
When the Boeing workers voted on the company’s proposal — more an ultimatum than just a proposal — the choice before them was a stark one: give back or fight back. They chose the latter by a two-thirds vote, thus rejecting the ultimatum and maintaining their wages, benefits and working conditions as spelled out in their then existing contract with the company.
That is when the unholy alliance of Big Business, the politicians and the media escalated their campaign to pressure the workers to cave in to the company’s demands. Tragically, leaders of the Boeing workers’ International union agreed to join this unholy alliance.
But achieving the victory that the company and its supporters so desperately sought required more than a propaganda onslaught — it required the most grotesque violations of workers’ rights guaranteed under federal law, as explained above. So now the focus has shifted to the NLRB, which is considering a host of Complaints that have been filed with it protesting the process that was followed. Filing a Complaint is the first step in getting an Unfair Labor Practice charge upheld.
This is a moment when all-out solidarity with the workers by the entire labor movement and our community allies is so urgently needed in support of the demand for justice for the Boeing workers. Any fair-minded person who reviews the facts will surely conclude that a profound miscarriage of justice has occurred here with respect to how the re-vote was conducted.
We in the labor movement now have our own stark choice to make: speak out now by signing the petition to the NLRB or to take no action and let the multi-billion dollar Boeing Corp. get away with its horrendous takeaways, aided by the trampling on workers’ rights.
We in the Labor Fightback Network pledge our unconditional and energetic solidarity with the effort of the courageous Boeing workers to stop this injustice.