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Union President's Final Act: Organize Airbus, Ramp Up Boeing 777X

Cronk, who has protested the election results to the Department of Labor, said, "Our whole platform stands for reform" and ticked off the goals of his campaign: "End the rampant nepotism and cronyism which has infested our union. Reduce the size of our bloated executive council. Bring executive salaries in line with the size and scope of our organization. Implement an ethics policy. Bring transparency to the financial dealings of our union."

He said he didn't propose ending the education center, but rather "we spoke of finding ways to make it more affordable for smaller local lodges who currently cannot afford the lost time and travel expenses associated with sending members to class there."

In any case, in votes tabulated May 9, Buffenbarger was overwhelmingly re-elected with 23,545 votes or two-thirds of the total. Cronk garnered 11,163 votes. Only about 6% of the union's 550,000 eligible members voted in the IAM's first contested election for national officer in more than 50 years.

Cronk did post victories among some workers, including those at United Airlines (UAL - Get Report), where IAM has 28,000 members including fleet service and passenger service agents -- partially because a pay increase scheduled for January was delayed for three months due to a payroll processing computer malfunction.

United IAM members overwhelmingly ratified a new contract in 2013; they will aslo benefit from recent increases in their pension payout formula. "Through the hard work of labor and management trustees, pension payouts were upped by 40%," Buffenbarger said. Nevertheless, the IAM supports the efforts of United pilots to encourage improvements in the airline's financial performance. "If there is something we can do to support their efforts, we are happy to do it," Buffenbarger said.

Cronk also won handily in Seattle, although only about 1,700 of 33,000 eligible Local 751 members voted. The presidential vote followed an ugly dispute, involving the Boeing contract, in which the union's inner conflicts were exposed to the world. Boeing didn't originally plan to build its 777X in the Seattle area, but in the summer of 2013, "We asked Boeing for a shot at keeping it in Seattle," Buffenbarger said in a January interview.

A first round of negotiations led to an offer that workers rejected in a Nov. 13 vote by a 2-to-1 margin. A second round led to a slightly improved offer that was approved by 51% of voters. The 10-year-contract included moderate pay increases and job security, but eliminated the defined benefit pension plan. Leaders of Everett Local 751 opposed both the contract and the second vote; Buffenbarger backed both.  Boeing shares closed Tuesday at $134.17, down 2% year-to-date.

Now, Buffenbarger considers the guarantee of 777X work to Seattle to be among his crowning achievements. "It may go down as the single biggest economic news story of the year," he said. "When we gave members the facts, they chose job security over everything else and we secured jobs for 30 years."

Other highlights of Buffenbarger's career were helping Harley Davidson (HOG) restructure in the 1980s and later helping Spirit AeroSystems (SPR) to restructure: The efforts saved thousands of union jobs.

Whatever Buffenbarger has done so far, however, would be dwarfed by the success that might come at Airbus.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer,
click here.

Follow @tedreednc

>>Read More: American Air President: Don't Call Us 'Nickel and Dimers.'

>>Read More: Union President's Final Act: Organize Airbus, Ramp Up Boeing 777X

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