Former Boeing Machinists Union chief Bill Johnson dies at 69

SEATTLE - Bill Johnson, a retired former president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 and union activist who worked on behalf of Boeing employees, has died after a fight with cancer. He was 69.

Union officials say Johnson led the district through one of its most tumultuous periods, from 1992 through 2000, helping to fight off a Boeing proposal to move 737 production to Long Beach, Calif.

He died Tuesday at his home in Seattle. District 751 plans a memorial service at the Seattle Union Hall in March 23 at 2 p.m.

Johnson was born Feb. 13, 1944, to William and Opal Johnson of Seattle, and later graduated from Ballard High School.

He worked for the Boeing Co. at the old Plant 2 as a journeyman machinist and was a mid-level Machinists Union activist working quietly behind the scenes before he became president of the district.

"He stepped in, he stepped up and he took on the job," said current District 751 President Tom Wroblewski. "He didn't do it for himself."

Prior to that, Johnson "was never looking for the spotlight," Wroblewski said. "He was a behind-the-scenes kind of guy."

As president, Johnson established programs that are important parts of the union today, union officials say, including the Work Transfer Committees that make the case against Boeing outsourcing proposals and the Machinists Volunteer Program that has built nearly 320 wheelchair ramps for Puget Sound families.

Johnson also made moves to make the union more inclusive, appointing the district's first female and African-American business representatives.

Johnson helped to fight off a 1997 Boeing proposal to move 737 production to Long Beach, Calif., and formed a working group with Boeing management that helped resolve 737 production issues.

Johnson also led the union through the difficult 69-day strike of 1995, and successfully negotiated the 1999 contract, which allowed the union to contest Boeing outsourcing proposals and improved health and retirement benefits, union officials say.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Dianne; daughters Christine Hinsee and Donna Habel of Seattle; a cousin, Bob Thompson, of Kingston; and other family members. He was preceded in death by a brother, Martin Johnson.