Turmoil inside the International Association of Machinists may cause Boeing to move production of its new 777X jet airliner outside of Washington. A major cause of the turmoil is the union's lack of democracy.

No non-incumbent candidate opposing the current leadership at IAM has managed to get on the ballot for election since 1961. That has created an apparent rift between the rank and file and the leadership. This was most clearly seen on Nov. 13, when 32,000 IAM members voted to reject a proposed contract worked out by Boeing and their union's leadership.

Rank and file members objected to the contract, which would have included a $10,000 signing bonus per worker, modest raises and shifted the workers from a defined benefit pension plan to a 401(k) system. Workers said they wanted to keep the defined benefit system.

As a consequence of the rejection, Boeing has said it is considering moving the airline's production out of Washington's Puget Sound region.

The Wall Street Journal noted Saturday just how hard it is for a non-incumbent to get on the ballot for a leadership position: It requires endorsement from at least 25 of the union's approximately 900 local lodges. In a January election, the most endorsements a non-incumbent got was three.

That candidate, Karen Asuncion, "alleged in a complaint with the Labor Department that some locals provided little or no notice of nomination meetings," the Journal reported. In August, the Labor Department 's investigation confirmed Asuncion's complaint, among other violations.

IAM subsequently entered into voluntary compliance agreement with the Labor Department to conduct new nominations and, potentially, a new election. This could provide the first real challenge to IAM President Thomas Buffenbarger since his election in 1997.