Union leaders in Puget Sound exercise veto power over rank and file members
Machinists union members in Puget Sound are “outraged” their local leaders did not give them the chance to vote on a final offer from Being last week. If members had been given the chance to vote and accepted the offer, work on Boeing’s 777X would have likely stayed in Washington State.
Following union members’ prior rejection of a an offer that was union bosses from the union’s national headquarters had negotiated secretly behind members’ backs in November, local union leaders met with Boeing last week in an attempt to get the company to improve its earlier offer.
Although Boeing did improve its offer, when the company made its final counter proposal to the union, local union leaders decided it was not worth taking it to a membership vote.
This has unions members “outraged,” according to one news report.
Some Machinists were outraged when they heard late Thursday afternoon that union leaders had rejected what the Boeing Co. called a “best and final counter-proposal” that would have secured production of the new 777X in metro Puget Sound.
The head of the district union said the company’s demands were too great, but several rank-and-file members said that should be their decision to make.
“My whole crew is furious we’re not even being offered the opportunity to vote on this contract,” said Randy Kennell, who works in the Everett factory.
A spokesman for the union’s national headquarters, Frank Larkin, said the union’s headquarters had received hundreds of calls from members angry about their local leadership’s refusal to allow members to vote.
But local union officials said Friday that they don’t see any point in bringing it to a vote because it’s too similar to a contract the union rejected a month ago by a 2-to-1 margin.
“So, until Boeing changes its conditions, we don’t have an offer to vote on,” District 751 president Tom Wroblewski said in a statement.
No Legal Requirement For Union Bosses To Let Members Vote
While it is uncertain whether local leaders have the final say on their members voting, what many union members may not have realized, until now, is that union bosses are not legally required to allow members to vote on contract offers by their employers.
In fact, in most union constitutions, union bosses have absolute veto power over their members ever being afforded the privilege of voting on a contract.
If union bosses do not want members to vote on a company’s offer, they do not have to let their members vote.
As a case in point, in 2004, the National Labor Relations Board dismissed union members’ complaints against a union (the Steelworkers), when union leaders would not let members vote on a contract that would have allowed an Alcoa plant to stay open.
The bosses at the union’s Pittsburgh headquarters did not want a plant in (coincidentally) Washington State that deviated its individual contract terms with the union’s main contract with Alcoa.
In dismissing the case, the NLRB stated the union’s refusal to let members vote on the contract offer was an “internal matter” to the union.
As a result, the union’s refusal to let its members vote, and the NLRB’s subsequent refusal to require a vote, cost 400 workers their jobs.
While most union constitutions give autocratic control to union bosses between conventions, the Machinists’ union is becoming known for its particularly undemocratic ways.
Earlier this month, the Department of Labor found the Machinists union “guilty of failing to adequately notify members that nominations for leadership positions were under way earlier this year.”
As a result, the union is being required to re-run its election for national leadership positions in 2014.
As the Seattle Times noted:
The labor movement has a lot of challenges forced upon it by economic conditions. Rigid, entrenched leadership is one that it’s brought upon itself.
It may be too late for the Machinists in Puget Sound…
Machinists union bosses, at both the national and local levels, appear to have alienated their members.
Whether or not they can salvage their reputations with Boeing workers, or whether members decertify or replace the Machinists with another union is something that will take some time to determine.
In the meantime, in separate news, Boeing announced that it has acquired 468 acres in North Charleston “to accommodate for future growth.”
“Truth isn’t mean. It’s truth.”
Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)
Cross-posted on LaborUnionReport.com