Machinists honor veterans’ service to country, union

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IAM 751 members who are veterans pose with the new plaque thanking them for their service.

SEATTLE — Unions and the military share common values: looking out for each other and working together to achieve their missions, IAM 751 members who had served in the U.S. Armed Forces said.

“You look out for each other, in that foxhole,” said Dwyane Johnson, who served as a helicopter door gunner in the U.S. Army in Vietnam before joining the union. “It’s the same thing here.”

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IAM 751 Secretary-Treasurer Susan Palmer presents the plaque recognizing the union’s veterans for their service to our country.

Machinists Union District Lodge 751 honored the thousands of its union members who have served in the Armed Forces with a Veterans Day ceremony. At the ceremony, the union unveiled a plaque thanking veterans, which reads: “You fought for our freedom to have the right to organize and bargain collectively so that we all may have a better way of life.”

Identical plaques are being installed at all five IAM 751 union halls, in Auburn, Everett, Renton, Seattle and Spokane.

District 751 has close ties to the Armed Forces. The union today represents close to 700 workers employed by defense contractors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and Fairchild Air Force Base, as well as Boeing Co. workers at Edwards Air Force Base.

And for generations, IAM 751 Machinists have built the Boeing Co. aircraft that have helped defend our nation, noted Ira Caterman, the president of Machinists Union Local Lodge 751-E and an Army veteran.

“Boeing’s been building military products since World War I and we as Machinists have been involved since 1935,” he said. “Boeing has a long history of hiring veterans. We have a lot of familiarity and expertise, and we have a vested interest.”

As a result, veterans make up a relatively high percentage of union members in Washington state, said Larry Brown, the union’s legislative director and a U.S. Navy veteran.

“It seems like its a quarter to a third of everyone at a union meeting is a veteran,” he said. “That’s a greater percentage than you’ll find at any other group’s meeting, except maybe the VFW.”

The keynote speaker at the ceremony, Al Link, is the former secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council. He served in the Army in Vietnam, then came home to Spokane to a union job at Kaiser Aluminum. He told the IAM 751 veterans that the bonds between soldiers are just like the bonds between union members.

“You always come out of the service with feeling of camaraderie with your fellow soldiers,” Link said. “When you work at a union mill or a foundry or a Boeing plant, you have the same thing.”

Brown agreed: “Military people understand that we have to do this together and we have to have each other’s back.”

By the same token, union stewards and activists are motivated by the same things that drive people to serve in the military, said John Kussy, a union steward and veteran who works for Boeing in Everett.

“It’s the same struggle. It’s a call to service that’s greater than yourself,” he said. “It too is service to your country.”

IAM&AW Grand Lodge Rep Kevin Cummings said unions are among the few American institutions that take seriously the task of exercising the rights that America’s men and women in uniform have secured for us. Too many Americans don’t even vote, he said, let alone get active in organizations that uphold the rights of ordinary people.

“Those battles were fought for a reason, to protect our rights,” Cummings said. “I view it as disrespectful if we don’t go out and exercise those rights.”

IAM 751 President Jon Holden said it was important for the union to do something to honor the many thousands of Armed Forces veterans who have been members of the union, past and present.

“To our brothers and sisters who work beside us, to our brothers and sisters who came before us, and to our brothers and sisters who bravely fought for our country, thanks for the sacrifice,” Holden said. “It’s given us everything we have as a country.”

Plaque3IAM 751 Business Rep Tommy Wilson said being in the Navy “brought me a lot of things, and taught me a lot of things.” It led him to jobs first at Boeing, and then with the Machinists Union, which has given him a career that allowed him to support his family.

There’s a lot of good-natured rivalry between the different branches of the service, Wilson said, but deep down, each member of the Armed Forces knows that in a time of crisis “everybody will have each other’s back.”

“A union is a lot like that,” he said. “I’m proud to be ex-military, and I’m proud to be working for one of the best damn unions in the United States.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and woman at 51 employers across Washington and California.

Check out our award-winning IAM 751 YouTube channel

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