The incumbent has won a squeaker in the race for leadership of the Carpenters District Council of Orange County.
But his opponent charges that the election was marred by widespread cheating and has formally challenged the results.
Bill Perry was reelected by just six votes late Wednesday as secretary of the district council, which governs seven carpenters' local unions in Orange and Riverside counties. The tally was 935 to 929. The turnout was unusually large for the 7,000-member council.
Opponent Steve Cobb, leader of Carpenters Local Union No. 1815 in Santa Ana, said he was leading by nearly 400 votes Wednesday night, with only Perry's own local in Orange left to count votes.
When the election was over, however, he trailed by six votes. The ballots in Orange were filled out by pencil instead of the usual ink stamp, he said, and he intimated that ballots had been changed.
"Within an hour and a half after they learned how many votes I had, I lost by six votes," Cobb said.
Cobb said he filed challenges Thursday with the union's national headquarters and the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging more than two dozen violations of union election rules.
Incumbent Perry, meanwhile, conceded that ballots were filled out at his local in pencil but denied that any cheating took place. Perry, in turn, accused Cobb's local of having shredded what he said were unused ballots.
"I never heard of a union local shredding ballots before," Perry said.
Cobb denied that any ballots were shredded.
The monthslong election campaign that ended late Wednesday was rife with charges and accusations on both sides. Perry repeatedly reminded union members of an investigation of Cobb several years ago regarding missing union funds. (Cobb said Thursday that four separate investigations cleared him of any charges.)
Cobb meanwhile said the 54-year-old Perry, who was head of the district council for two previous three-year terms, was running the council in an autocratic manner and had shut members out of contract negotiations. Cobb, 40, is also a longtime union official.
While Perry squeaked by in the election, other union officials loyal to him lost to Cobb supporters in elections for local union offices.
"I think I took a beating overall," Perry said.
He blamed the tight race on members' discontent during a slump in the construction industry, which has left many carpenters unemployed and with few prospects for work. The big office towers and other commercial buildings these union members usually work on are overbuilt, and there is unlikely to be much new construction soon.