LYNN — The new leaders of the 1,550 member-strong union that includes GE River Works employees are a study in contrasts united in their goal to bring new work into the West Lynn plant.
Adam Kaszynski and Tom O’Shea were elected president and vice president of the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) Local 201 in a special Jan. 8 election.
More than half of the Local membership turned out to pick a new president and vice president to succeed former Local President Peter Capano, who retired after 29 years at GE and is West Lynn and Nahant’s new state representative, and former Local Vice President Jay Walsh, who retired from the River Works to work for his family’s oil and fuel company.
Kaszynski, a Local trustee and machinist, won the four-way race for president and said he and O’Shea, the Local’s former treasurer, “hit the ground running.”
With the contract governing River Works workers up for negotiation in June and a shortage of experienced machinists in the plant, Kaszynski and O’Shea said they have their work cut out for them.
A union membership survey identified wages and health care as top concerns — especially health care and costs associated with out-of-pocket expenses.
Kaszynski said union leaders want to look at the 2017 market-rate wage agreement hammered out by the union and company representatives with an eye toward providing incentives for attracting experienced machinists to the River Works.
“We have a clear mandate,” he said.
Capano and Walsh credited market-rate wage with spurring River Works employment and bringing 400 new employees into the plant in the last year and a half.
Union leaders and GE managers alike have their eyes on the contract-awarding process that will determine within weeks if GE or its competitors build the next-generation ITEP helicopter engine to power military helicopters.
Landing ITEP is a major company goal and Kaszynski said the River Works is well positioned to land the contract and build the new engines.
“We have the machines and we’ve done it well and successfully for a long time,” he said.
The 31-year-old Lynn resident’s love for the union movement is rooted in machine work.
“In 2008 I needed a job. I met someone at a party who said I should think about being a machinist. I asked, ‘What’s a machinist?'” he said.
He enrolled in the E-team machinist training program in 2010 and was quickly impressed by the commitment made by community organizations, local churches and the River Works union to train people to fill well-paying jobs.
Hired in 2011 as an oiler at the River Works, Kaszynski got involved in the union’s education committee and stewardship training the following year.
That was also the year he helped form the band Tigerman WHOA! The group won Live Artist of the Year at the 28th Boston Music Awards in 2015.
O’Shea, 58, is a third-generation River Works employee who grew up in Lynn and Nahant and started working at the plant in 1986. O’Shea quickly developed an interest in political issues of the day and union meetings.
O’Shea said River Works’ union reflects members’ desires to see the plant prosper and bring prosperity to Lynn.
Although Local 201 represents River Works employees, its membership includes an array of union workers ranging from rental car company employees to Saugus librarians.
Union membership has declined in America. The percentage of wage and salary workers who were union members in 2018 totaled 10.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 20.1 percent in 1983.
But O’Shea and Kaszynski said recent union victories, including the Los Angeles teachers strike, are proof unions matter to their members and have allies in their communities.
“We need to reach out and have more friends,” Kaszynski said.