Last month, our neighbors, the rank-and-file members and local officers of the Boeing Machinists union proclaimed a huge victory at the International Association of machinists (IAM) Grand Lodge convention in Chicago. They succeeded in amending the constitution of the IAM to include a members’ bill of rights. This is a historic big deal. The venerable union, formed in 1889, has hundreds of local unions in the U.S. and Canada that needed to be brought onboard. What transpired is an example of the resiliency and determination of the rank-and-file and local officers to take back their union.
IAM 751 represents over 30,000 Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region; its main headquarters in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle.
Delegates from IAM 751 set out to ensure that no international president will ever again have the power that former International President Buffenbarger wielded in 2013 when he colluded with Boeing management to strip members of their defined-benefit pensions. He arranged to renegotiate an existing contract two years before its expiration and fanned a Boeing campaign of fear that huge numbers of jobs would be lost if members retained those pensions. When members resoundingly refused, he forced a second vote abetted by dire forecasts from Governor Inslee and Boeing’s legislative toadies. Frightened members gave up their planned retirements by a slim margin in a January, 2014 vote.
I’ve appended a flier “Remember November” about the sellout published by the Rosie’s Machinists 751 Caucus, that was formed as a result of those events. (The name hearkens back to Rosie-the-Riveter from WWII.)
Most members were as astounded and angered as I was at the arrogant power of the international president. So, after the debacle, union members and new reform leadership spent months drafting a members’ bill of rights that they took to IAM locals around the U.S. and Canada to build support.
Buffenbarger had wide authority to negotiate with our bosses, schedule contract votes and even approve a contract proposal that members had rejected. The new bill of rights assures that only union members covered by a contract can approve or reject it; that local leaders will set when and where contract votes are held, and that only members covered by a contract can approve opening it up for early negotiations. It also prohibits the international from negotiating a contract with an employer without telling members.
The bill’s draft was discussed in the summer meetings of each of 751’s Local Lodges and then adopted in August. It’s not everything every member might want, but hits the issues of the forced vote in 2014.
Members are rightly proud at their accomplishment. Brothers and sisters told the local meetings that, while this does not bring back their lost pensions, it makes them proud and feisty for the future. You can feel the excitement in this message posted from Chicago by a Grand Lodge delegate:
“We, the 39th IAM Convention delegates from District 751 are proud to thank all of our Sisters and Brothers back home at District 751, in Seattle who worked so hard to get us here. We now have a membership bill of rights! This is our victory together: Every 751er who stood up and put their essence into this hard and sacred work! Those of us who devote our time, thoughts and souls into the betterment and support of the Labor Movement understand how much goes on behind the scenes. This is what true unionists do. We take our anger and turn it into historic action. We speak for those who are voiceless and we take action for those who can take and even those who just won’t… Our one reward is seeing someone else’s eyes open to the power of collective action and democracy. Stay strong, keep your head up, eyes on the prize and bask in the light of knowing you have a family standing behind you. we cower to no one!! forward together! Solidarity!”
Working class victories are so hard won that everyone should know of them. Here is the actual wording of the amendment for readers who are labor mavens:
IAM Membership Bill of Rights
(Adopted by the 2016 Grand Lodge Convention as modified by the IAM Law Committee)
Sec. 2: This constitution expressly preserves the following membership rights which shall be honored unless a District or Local Lodge successfully obtains dispensation for good cause shown:
Subject to legal requirements concerning impasse, no NLRA contract may be implemented without honoring the outcome of a vote of the members it covers.
Whenever practicable, contract negotiating committees must contain at least one member from the bargaining unit.
Subject to legal requirements, no NLRA contract shall be opened at other than normal expiration of duration without a majority vote of the bargaining unit members.
Once the union leadership at any level receives a request to bargain from a NLRA employer, the bargaining unit membership must be notified.
The date, time and location of contract vote shall be determined by District or Local leadership, taking into account the convenience and availability of the membership to participate in the voting process.
For more information:
Aero Mechanic newspaper, Vol. 71 No. 9 October 2016, and iam751.org
Henry Noble, IAM 751, retired