A Machinists union battle that many members of that very union don’t even know about is heating up and could be poised to make history.
Jay Cronk, a Metro North Mechanic in New Haven and former national organizer at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is challenging Thomas Buffenbarger, the union’s international president.
In order to force a national election — which hasn’t happened since 1961, and even then not for president — Cronk needs to win the endorsement of 25 out of more than 1,000 local lodges. He already has 14 in hand, a U.S. Department of Labor official told Cronk’s camp. Another 83 lodges, including four in Connecticut, will hold endorsement balloting on Saturday.
Cronk’s slate of seven candidates had to gain in-person nominations at locals on Jan. 25, to set off this coming Saturday’s endorsement votes. Among its 97 nominations, the slate was unopposed in 14 — meaning not one person in those locals nominated the national slate headed by Buffenbarger.
The election was the result of a settlement between the Machinists and the U.S. Department of Labor, which accused the union of illegal and improper practices in a 2013 election, in which a challenge candidate did not win the needed 25 endorsements.
Cronk, was fired in November from his national job in the Maryland “Grand Lodge” as a staff representative after he announced his challenge, and in December returned to his Metro North job of 22 years earlier.
The challenge slate has received an endorsement from the executive board of the largest local, with 18,000 members at Boeing in Washington state, where many members were upset about Buffenbarger’s position in a recent contract vote. Despite that, it’s a major effort for the challenge slate just getting word out to union members that there even is an endorsement election this weekend.
I could find no mention of the vote on any union websites in the state, and a union member in Connecticut told me that his local put out no notice of the nominations.
“We have very little confidence that the IAM will allow a free, fair and legal vote on Saturday,” Cronk said in a written statement in which he accused the union leadership of coercion, illegal campaigning and other violations, “so appalling that we hear it’s backfiring against the incumbents.”
Rick Sloan, a spokesman for the incumbent slate including Buffenbarger, said Cronk lied to me in a January interview — though he declined to say how. He said the accusations were the comments of “sore losers before the fact,” and said, “The fact is the Cronkettes are expecting to lose…because they have had virtually no support throughout the International Association of Machinists.”