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Union president explains endorsement process, political involvement

Machinists Union District Lodge 751 is supporting candidates who support working people, the union's district president said.

His union’s political involvement can be summarized in two sentences, said Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751:

“District 751 supports candidates who will help working families,” Wroblewski said. “District 751 does not support candidates who make attacks on labor unions a centerpiece of their agenda.”

Wroblewski’s explanation of how the union makes political endorsements — and why it’s even involved in politics at all — is part of the current edition of the AeroMechanic newsletter.

Unions long ago learned that “anything we can win at the bargaining table can be erased by a single piece of unfriendly legislation,” Wroblewski wrote in his monthly message to union members. Therefore, unions get involved in politics to ensure that “the people who make our laws are people who have the interests of our members and working people in mind.”

There are practical advantages to this, he said. In recent years, District 751′s political involvement has played a role in:

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The union has a “well-established grass-roots process” for deciding which candidates to endorse, Wroblewski said.

A Legislative Committee — made up of rank-and-file union members who work at Boeing and other companies — interviews candidates and researches voting records.

“The No. 1 thing the committee looks for is a commitment to policies that benefit working people in general, and unions in particular,” he said. Political affiliation isn’t a factor, and neither are a candidate’s positions on social issues.

The committee’s recommendations are then reviewed and voted on by the union’s District Council, which is made up of delegates elected by rank-and-file members of each of District 751′s seven local lodges.

Similarly, any proposal to donate money to a political campaign is reviewed by the District Council.

“Not a dime” of union dues paid by members goes to campaign contributions, Wroblewski said. “All the contributions we make from the Machinists Non-partisan Political League come from voluntary donations.”

Besides, the union’s most valuable contributions aren’t cash, but rather the time and energy of volunteers, Wroblewski said. “Our volunteers are motivated and effective, and that’s why our political opponents fear us.”

In the past, District 751 has endorsed both Democratic and Republican candidates, but “in recent years, the Republican Party has become more and more viciously anti-union,” Wroblewski said.

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney “hates unions,” he said. And the Republican candidate for governor, Rob McKenna, “wants to do away with our state’s workers compensation system, which is a national model of efficiency.”

“Given their open attacks on these key things we stand for, it’s impossible for this union to endorse these two candidates — especially when you compare them to their Democratic opponents,” Wroblewski said.

The union leader said President Obama has “a common-sense plan for re-building manufacturing jobs in America.” And Jay Inslee, the Democratic candidate for governor, “was one of our leading advocates during our long tanker fight.”

Both Obama and Inslee have “proven records of support for our industry, and for our union’s ability to negotiate and maintain the good pay and benefits you enjoy today,” Wroblewski told union members. “That’s why we’re backing these candidates.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents some 33,000 working men and women in Washington, Oregon and California. In December 2011, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Renton.

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