Chicago-area mechanics on strike; major car repairs may stall at dealers
Mechanics at almost 140 new car dealerships across the Chicago area went on strike Tuesday, potentially throwing a hitch into some auto repairs. The strike took effect at 12:01 a.m. on August 1 and included almost 2,000 mechanics, according to the Automobile Mechanics’ Union Local 701, which represents the mechanics.
Mark Bilek, senior director of communications for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, said most affected dealerships remain open. “They may not be performing complex repairs, but oil changes, stuff like that, it’s business as usual,” said Bilek, who spoke on behalf of the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee, which bargains for the dealerships.
The union argues that the strike will be much more disruptive. Sam Cicinelli, directing business representative for Local 701, said routine services also have been halted. “They’re not doing that,” he said. “There’s nobody that’s in there to do oil changes or anything of the sort.”
The mechanics have been bargaining with the New Car Dealer Committee since June, according to a statement from the union.
The union has a list of sticking points including uncompensated time, work rules that interfere with members’ family time and no path toward a career in the industry, according to the statement. The industry has “draconian pay structures prohibiting our ability to attract young, aspiring mechanics to enter the auto repair profession,” according to the union statement. “Who will fix the cars and trucks in our future?”
Though Bilek said the two parties agreed upon some topics, Cicinelli said none of the union’s original proposals were addressed. Chiefly, the union wants a guaranteed 40-hour work week, he said.
“They basically tried to throw money at a continued problem within the industry thinking that they would just stifle the members to accept and continue to work, but they’ve been working under these conditions for eight years. It’s not working,” Cicinelli said. “What do we do for a living? We fix things. We’re trying to fix something that’s broken.”
Early reports indicated that mechanics are picketing at almost every one of the affected dealerships, Bilek said.
There are about 420 new car dealerships in the Chicago area. Of those, about 180 are unionized. In Illinois, there are no partially unionized dealerships. The mechanics at each dealership decide if they will be in the union. The dealerships affected by this strike are those that bargain with the New Car Dealer Committee.
The last mechanics strike involving Local 701 occurred in 1994, Cicinelli said. According to reports in the Chicago Tribune, that strike affected about 2,700 mechanics.
There’s no doubt being a mechanic for today’s cars takes plenty of training and on-the-job learning, Bilek said. “You can’t replace that overnight,” he said.
Dealers have been looking for solutions to complex jobs, like transmission repairs or engine rebuilds, he said.
“Most of those dealers were well aware of what might happen, so they’ve been informing customers in advance,” Bilek said.
Source: Chicago Tribune