Sign up for a free Courant newsletter for a chance to win $100 P.C. Richard gift card

Mechanics union accuses dealership group of labor law violation as strike continues

As a Chicago-area auto mechanics strike nears its seventh week, the union involved is accusing the bargaining group for new-car dealerships of violating federal labor law.

It's the second such accusation surrounding this strike in as many weeks, with the first charge filed by the dealerships against the union, Automobile Mechanics' Local 701.

The newest charge, filed Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board, accuses the New Car Dealership Committee of bargaining in bad faith.

Nearly 2,000 mechanics at almost 140 new-car dealerships throughout the Chicago area walked off the job Aug. 1, demanding a contract that resolves sticking points such as uncompensated work time. Though the parties have come to the bargaining table multiple times, negotiations have stalled.

The dealership committee on Wednesday presented its "last, best and final" contract offer to the union.

The committee allegedly provided union members the offer before Local 701 had a chance to review it, according to a post on the union's website. Dealing directly with technicians in that instance constitutes bargaining in bad faith, the union alleges.

Dave Sloan, a spokesman for the New Car Dealership Committee, said the charge is without merit.

"We sent it to the union before we sent it to our dealers," he said. "We obviously didn't send it directly to the technicians."

The committee sent the offer to dealers so the mechanics would have an accurate portrayal of the deal, Sloan said.

The technicians have run out of time, he said.

If they don't return to work this week, according to the committee's site, many of the workers will experience a four-week gap in health coverage once they do return.

Representatives from the union did not respond to requests for comment, but the union said on its site that there is a lack of clarity surrounding the insurance issue.

Meanwhile, last week some dealerships affected by the strike broke ranks with the New Car Dealership Committee and reached separate agreements with their unionized workers.

Soon after, the committee filed a charge with the NLRB. Asking dealerships to break ranks with the bargaining committee violates fair labor practices, the charge alleges. Negotiating with the individual dealerships and entering into separate agreements with them are also violations, the charge states.

Business at the dealerships affected by the strike has suffered. Though some have continued offering basic services like oil changes or tire rotations, many had to shut down repairs completely. Some laid off nonunion employees for lack of work.

The "last, best and final" contract offer would increase base pay hours for journeyman service technicians (the highest classification) from 34 hours to 35, according to the committee's website. It also includes wage increases for all classifications of technicians and limitations on scheduling for journeyman technicians.

The base pay issue has been a major sticking point throughout negotiations. Mechanics often are paid based on billable hours set by carmakers. For example, if a manufacturer says an oil change should take one hour, the mechanic gets compensated for one hour of work, regardless of whether he or she spends longer on the job.

Under the previous contract, mechanics received base pay for 34 hours. The union has been asking for that to increase to 40.

amarotti@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @AllyMarotti

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
24°