Auto mechanics in Chicago region strike over ‘Draconian’ pay structure

By Jean Lotus Staff Reporter

Auto mechanics picket near the Volvo Dealership in Oak Park (Courtesy: IAM Local 701)

About 2,000 new-car dealership auto mechanics went on strike last week, walking out from around 130 dealerships in Chicago and nearby suburbs. Members of IAM Automobile Mechanics Local 701, based in Carol Stream, voted to reject a last-minute contract renewal offer from the Chicago-based New Car Dealer Committee (NCDC). Car dealerships in Cook, Lake, DuPage and Kane counties are members of the NCDC consortium.

The union’s negotiators are trying to make up for an unusual pay system that can lead to as much as 15 percent or more of uncompensated time, said Robert Bruno, professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois School for Labor and Employment Relations.

“The U.S. Department of Labor classifies [new-car auto mechanics] as salespeople, which is absurd,” Bruno said. “They are only paid for time actually worked, not time spent diagnosing the problem, or waiting for parts. And there’s no overtime.”

The antiquated pay structure, referred to as an “incentive” system, requires 34 hours of “booked” time per week, that some mechanics are now working more than 50 hours weekly to achieve, said Sam Cicinelli, Local 701 directing business representative.

The NCDC offered incentives for booked hours worked more than the required 34, he said. “It’s an unobtainable carrot. The technician ends up working at his own expense,” Cicinelli said. “What other job in this country has ‘unapplied time?’”

The conflict has come to the attention of other locals in other states, Cicnelli said.

“We’ve had inquiries from [unions in] other states as well as Canada about this strike, because if we can change [the pay structure], it might be easier to change theirs.”

Journeymen auto mechanics are a disappearing breed, with a shortage of 25,000 predicted over the next five years, according to a recent New York Times article. Not only is it tough to get young people interested in auto mechanic education, but “draconian pay structures [are] prohibiting our ability to attract young aspiring mechanics to enter the auto repair profession,” Cicinelli said in a statement. “With the industry heading in this direction, who will fix the cars and trucks in our future?”

In new-car shops, mechanics are racing the clock to perform repairs in “warranty time” — the amount of time manufacturers such as Ford, Chrysler or General Motors say a task should be performed, based on factory time-motion studies. Factories have been “sweating down” the time windows — squeezing the tasks into shorter time periods —unwilling to reimburse car dealerships for repairs that take longer.

Members of IAM Automobile Mechanics Local 701 react to discussions of a strike vote July 30 at the Operating Engineers hall in Countryside. (Photo courtesy of IAM Local 701)

Additionally, less-skilled workers, paid around $12/hour, are taking away “booked hour” tasks, leaving journeymen mechanics with fewer possibilities to make up time, Bruno said.

The NCDC said their final offer was “extremely generous” and included a 5 percent raise and 95-percent employer-paid insurance benefits and pension contributions, according to a statement. There are about 420 franchised new-car dealers in the Chicago-area market, but only 130 participate in the NCDC.

“In the ultra-competitive Chicago market, new car dealers face enormous challenges to remain competitive in automobile service operations,” the NCDC statement said. “There are many competitors, not only other non-union dealers, but also numerous non-union national chains offering automotive service.”

“Service technicians are integral to the success of any new-car dealership. Today’s automotive technicians are highly-skilled, well-trained and well-paid for the excellent work they do,” the NCDC statement said.

Dealers pay for technician training and provide “sophisticated tools and equipment,” the statement said.  “Dealers highly value the contribution service technicians make to the success of the overall business.”

The union met with NCDC negotiators in 16 bargaining sessions since June 12, Local 701 said in a statement. The previous contract expired July 31.

The union statement said negotiators were “concessionary” in the past two contracts. “However, after ratification of the last agreement, the auto industry began to boom. Now the technicians are simply looking for a fair share of the industry growth,” according to the union.

New car service and parts sales brought in $109.52 billion in 2016, averaging $6.56 million per new car dealership, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.





— Auto mechanics in collar counties strike over ‘Draconian’ pay structure —