Nearly 2,000 Chicago-area mechanics will return to work Monday after reaching an agreement with car dealerships to end a nearly seven-week strike.
Members of the Automobile Mechanics’ Union Local 701 approved a new deal Sunday, according Mark Bilek, spokesman for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.
“The dealers are relieved to have the work stoppage behind them,” Bilek said on behalf of the New Car Dealership Committee, the group representing dealerships. “They are ready to welcome their service.”
Mechanics at nearly 140 dealerships in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs were on strike beginning Aug. 1 after their most recent contract expired at the end of July.
The group, seeking better pay and scheduling, among other sticking points, voted to reject three previous proposals before approving the latest four-year agreement.
At issue throughout the negotiations, which began in June, were things like uncompensated time – with the union saying mechanics are often paid for hours a repair job is scheduled for, even if it takes longer than the time allotted.
Attorneys for the dealerships argued that the arrangement can often go the other way, as technicians can be paid for an hour of work when the job may not require that full amount of time.
The union also wanted senior mechanics to have the ability to have two consecutive days off in the workweek, and objected to an increase in employee health insurance contributions.
These factors were coupled with concerns over the industry’s opportunity for advancement for semi-skilled workers like lube techs.
As a result, union members also sought to reduce the length of the apprenticeship program to four or five years as it was in previous deals, in hopes that the combination of changes in the new contract, as well as a clearer long-term career path, would attract more young talent to the field.
Early in the negotiations, the trade association offered a 5 percent annual raise, which Local 701 rejected on the basis that it was largely incentive-based.
Technicians said that the productivity levels needed to reach that pay increase would be difficult to obtain, a mechanic told Automotive News, as work done at dealerships is often done under warranty at a lower rate paid by automakers, rather than a customer rate.
The advent of quick oil change places and what the union called "less skilled service providers" has also put a strain on business, which dealers said made it financially difficult to agree to the mechanics’ requests.
Specific details of the contract approved Sunday were not immediately available. Technicians were expected to return to their respective dealerships Monday.