Footage of striking mechanics from a video upload on Aug. 25. Screen capture via the Machinists Union on YouTube

Several Chicago-area dealerships have made individual agreements with mechanics amidst a now month-long strike over harsh pay structures and treatment, the Chicago Tribune reports. But the negotiations have been collective so far, and, now, the bargaining group representing dealers has accused the technicians’ union of violating federal labor law with the individual deals.

To recap: the Chicago-area strike began on Aug. 1, after current contracts ended for technicians unionized under the Automobile Mechanics’ Local 701. The strike began and still revolves around several claims put forth by the union: a harsh, antiquated wage structure that pays technicians hours assigned for each repair job rather than the number of hours actually worked, the lack of a clear pathway to move up or achieve a long-term profession, scheduling issues and an environment that discourages young people from joining the industry.

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Things got ugly right from the start of the strike and continued from there, with some technicians saying their respective dealers canceled their health insurance, put ads out for their jobs and pushed their tools out in the rain. A number of other dealership retaliations have been claimed by people in the area, a lot of which Jalopnik has been unable to confirm from both sides.

In the beginning, the strike involved about 130 of the 420 new-car dealerships in the Chicago area. The Local 701 union bargained on behalf of the technicians, while the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee fought for the dealers’ side of things—wanting to keep things relatively the same as they have been.

The Tribune reported Wednesday that more than half a dozen of those dealers came to individual agreements with their unionized technicians, ending the strike at their respective dealerships and having technicians return to work. Here’s how the Tribune described the scenes where that happened:

As soon as the technicians approved the deal, some came right back to work. And they were needed, [Autobarn Mazda of Evanston service director Aidan] McCarthy said.

“(We were) not allowed to do any warranty work, any new-car preps, any certified inspections, any recalls — stuff like that,” he said. “I just had a bunch of stuff waiting to get done. We were just barely hanging on.” ...

With the mechanics back to work at Autobarn Mazda, McCarthy said they thought it would be “a slow upswing of business,” but by Tuesday afternoon, the dealership had serviced about 40 vehicles. [The dealership typically takes about 40 to 50 vehicles for repair per day, according to the Tribune.]

“Spirits are high. People are happy,” he said, noting that no one expected the strike to last so long. “We gave it as much time as we did. We listened to the NCDC ... and (then) it was like, ‘When is this going to end? We can’t do this forever.’”

But not everyone is happy. The New Car Dealer Committee told the Tribune dealerships can’t go rogue amongst the multi-employer bargaining agreement, and that “all of these contracts that these dealers are signing are worthless.”

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The committee told the Tribune it would file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board if it got “an inadequate response from the union” in regards to the “illegal activity” with the separate agreements. On Tuesday, it did just that.

Jalopnik reached out to the New Car Dealer Committee, and a spokesperson said the union “illegally solicited dealers that are in the bargaining group” to pick off dealers one by one. The spokesperson also said that doing so within a multi-employer bargaining unit is unlawful conduct, as group bargaining rather than individual bargaining is an agreement from both sides: the committee and the union.

The spokesperson said the committee has voicemail recordings of a business agent who allegedly called dealerships in regards to making individual deals, but the committee did not share the alleged recordings with Jalopnik when asked.

Jalopnik obtained a copy of the NLRB filing by the committee, which is a single-page document officially filed against the “Automobile Mechanics’ Local 701, affiliated with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.” The document lists the following as the basis of the charge:

Beginning on approximately August 1, 2017, the Charged Party has violated its duty to bargain in good faith (1) by soliciting members of the New Car Dealer Committee (NCDC), a multi-employer bargaining association, to withdraw from the NCDC, (2) by negotiating with individual members of the NCDC for separate collective bargaining agreements, and (3) by entering into separate collective bargaining agreements with individual members of the NCDC.

The Charging Party requests that the General Counsel pursue 10(j) injunctive relief in this case.

Here are some details of the filing in more plain English than the text above, as reported by the Tribune:

Asking dealerships to break ranks with the New Car Dealer Committee, which bargains on their behalf, 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. ...

Employers are not allowed to leave multiemployer bargaining units during negotiations unless both sides agree or there are unusual circumstances, according to a decision the NLRB made in June in an unrelated case.

The Tribune reports that the committee “hope[s] the union will get back to the table and work out an agreement” in the interim.

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Jalopnik has reached out to the Local 701 union and the Mazda dealership that the Tribune reports agreed to an individual deal for comment on the matter, and will update if we hear back.