The historic, long-shot challenge by a Metro North mechanic trying to unseat the International Association of Machinists president comes to a vote at the union locals for Pratt & Whitney and UTC Aerospace on Sunday.
Jay Cronk, a mechanic at the New Haven rail yard and former Machinists union official, won the right to an election against IAM president Tom Buffenbarger at more than 800 local lodges around the United States and Canada. Cronk and his challenge slate won the endorsement of 42 locals, triggering a general election vote for president, believed to be a first in the union’s history.
The campaign has been nasty, with accusations flying on web sites for both sides. And as voting unfolds at locals’ regular April meetings, both sides are claiming a strong hand.
“We’re crushing them,” said Rick Sloan, spokesman for the incumbent slate, including Buffenbarger.
Challenge slate spokesman John Courtmanche said it appeared to be a close race based on unofficial results filtering out. “Jay’s team is winning many lodges and many big lodges,” he said.
Voting is Sunday at the two lodges that represent about 2,500 Pratt workers at the East Hartford and Middletown plants; at the lodge that represents several hundred workers at United Technologies Aerospace Systems, formerly Hamilton Sundstrand, in Windsor Locks; at the Berlin lodge that represents Stanley Black & Decker; and at two Groton lodges.
Cronk’s local, representing Metro North, is scheduled to vote next week. Cronk returned to work there in December after a 22-year stint working for the union, mostly at the Maryland headquarters.
The Seattle area, where Boeing employees comprise about 10 percent of the roughly 325,000 active Machinist members, is a sharp battleground as a result of discontent stemming from a recent contract dispute. Steve Wilhelm, a writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal, reported that he “criscrossed the parking lot” while voting was occurring on April 3, and found “every single person I asked, with no exceptions,” claiming to vote for Cronk and his slate.
Up for election are the president, the No. 2 position and eight general vice presidents who serve as the union’s board of directors, and hold full-time jobs at the headquarters.
Turnout could be a deciding factor. The endorsement votes, held nationwide Feb. 8, drew extraordinarily light numbers — just a small handful at the Connecticut lodges, sources said — because the union did not publicize that vote.
The U.S. Department of Labor is overseeing the election as a result of an agreement with the union after an accusation that the union did not properly handle a 2013 challenge.
For this month’s general election balloting, the local lodges have posted announcements of the national election on their web sites, and members are receiving some emails.
Cronk’s team said federal officials found that the Buffenbarger slate sent campaign materials to an email list meant for official union business. As a result, Labor Department officials emailed challenge slate materials to that same list, Courtmanche said.
A Labor Department spokesman had no comment and Sloan, the spokesman for Buffenbarger’s incumbent slate, also declined to comment about it.