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From the November-December 2008 issue of Union Democracy Review #176

Relentless attack on democracy in the Machinists Union
by Judith Schneider

In its Local S6, the 3,400-member shipbuilders local in Bath, Maine now under trusteeship, the International Association of Machinists faces increasing rank and file opposition, a federal lawsuit, and embarrassing press coverage, but it remains unmoved in its efforts to make sure that a local leadership it favors runs the local.

In October 2007, Michael Keenan, local S6 president since 2001, ran for reelection with incumbents Troy Osgood, for vice president, and Michael Cyr, for Chief Steward. They had apparently not endeared themselves to Grand Lodge and district officials by outspoken disapproval of their spending habits and by a refusal to send local dues money to the Machinists Non-Partisan League Education Fund after the membership had repeatedly voted down a contribution.

In the October local elections, the international supported an opposition slate, but when the three were reelected, the international voided the election. In the February 2008 rerun election, controlled entirely by the international, the Keenan slate did even better than before. He, Osgood and Cyr were again reelected, this time with even bigger margins. Cathy London, a candidate for trustee who had been defeated in October, was also elected.

The international obviously could not tolerate the membership decision. On March 17, the local was trusteed, the elected officials were escorted out, and the locks of the union hall were changed. After rummaging through years of records, the international alleged "financial and other mismanagement," and charged that it found child pornography on local computers. At trusteeship hearings in May, opponents of the trusteeship were denied the right to be represented by their attorney.

The trusteeship hearing panel appointed by IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger, finally reported on August 14. To no one's surprise, it upheld the trusteeship, but it discarded 10 of the 14 charges leveled against the local. The charges that remained: some unaccounted-for "union label" merchandise like t-shirts and jackets, a backlog of grievances (a common union problem but in this case attributed by the suspended officers to District inaction), sloppy lost-time records (although there was "no evidence" of illegitimate payments) and a charge that is becoming familiar in the IAM, pornography on computers. (Actual evidence of pornography may be skimpy. The officers say that time stamps prove that most of the pornography was viewed after they were locked out of the union hall by the international's investigators.) [See Nasty aftermath to trusteeship for similar pornography charges in L. 2339N.]

In a pending federal lawsuit filed last May, Keenan, Osgood, Cyr and London charge that the trusteeship violates LMRDA Title III and the free speech provisions of Title I, and violates state law on defamation. They are represented by AUD Advisory Board member Leon Rosenblatt. Trial is expected in April 2009. Keenan claims under the trusteeship, the local is actually being run by the slate rejected by the membership.

Meanwhile, 1,743 members have signed a "no confidence" petition objecting to the trusteeship. And members denounce a dues increase imposed at a convention which their delegates were not allowed to attend; they protest a refusal to hold union meetings; they demand an accounting of local expenditures.

Assorted disciplinary charges have been filed against the four officers. If convicted by the usual tractable trial committee appointed by President Buffenbarger, they will be deprived of the right to run for office, and could not regain control of the local once the trusteeship is lifted.

Articles on the IAM:
IAM election needless. All 20 officers coast in
IAM Maine shipyard local reminds us: It's hard to resist a repressive trusteeship
Relentless attack on democracy in the Machinists Union
IAM Local 2339N: Nasty aftermath to a Trusteeship
Maine shipbuilders protest vs. IAM trusteeship
Court to IAM: Inform members of their rights
U.S. Appeals Court says: Let your people know!
Update: Still Subverting Union Democracy in 2005
SHORTS: photocopying hiring hall records, longshore reform victory, peace pipe for SEIU and CNA? and more.
Links to IAM member websites

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