The Chicago Mechanic Strike Keeps Getting Uglier

Nearly 2,000 automotive mechanics in the Chicago area are about to enter their seventh week on strike, fighting dealers for major structural changes to their employment. And a week after the group representing dealers accused the technicians’ union of violating federal labor laws, the union filed its own federal complaint against the group for what it calls “bargaining in bad faith.”


The strike, which began on Aug. 1 after unionized technicians’ employment contracts with their dealerships expired, centers on multiple claims from the Automobile Mechanics’ Local 701 union: an antiquated wage structure that pays technicians only for hours assigned to each repair job rather than how many hours that mechanic actually worked, the lack of a clear way to move up or gain long-term profession, scheduling problems and a work environment that is not appealing to young people.

Interactions between the Local 701 mechanics’ union and the dealers’ group, the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee, got spiteful as soon as the strike started, and increasingly so as the weeks went on. Technicians claimed that dealerships were pushing their tools outside, canceling their health insurance and hiring people to take their place almost immediately after the strike began.

Negotiations of a contract offer have gone on since before the strike, with offers such as hourly pay raises and better benefits from the dealer committee being denied due to their nature of not addressing what mechanics see as the real issue: a pay structure that doesn’t pay for all of the hours worked during a day.

(Jalopnik has been told that some area dealers don’t favor this idea because they feel as if workers can become vested employees and use the pay minimums set by the union, which require workers to be paid at least 34 hours a week if they work 40, to get paid more for flagging 20 hours out of laziness. Union members say they want pay for hours worked because some repair jobs genuinely take more time than the assigned pay hours say they do, and because companies are continually chopping hours per job.)


Just over a week after the dealer committee filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the union of “illegal activity” after several rogue contracts between dealerships and unionized technicians, the union said Sept. 7 on its website that it went to the NLRB to accuse the dealer committee of bargaining in bad faith. (The charge also shows up on the NLRB’s website.)

The union claims the NLRB charge came after the dealer committee allegedly took its “last best final offer” straight to technicians before allowing the union to look at it. The union webpage did not describe what the final offer entails, but this is not the first time the dealer committee has claimed an offer to be the “final” one.


From the statement on the union’s webpage:

After having an opportunity to review the NCDC’s Last Best Final Offer (“LBFO”), and hearing feedback from you on the line today as well as fielding several phone calls, it is clear that there are still several questions regarding the specifics of the LBFO. There is a lack of clarity over issues concerning continuation of insurance and return to work issues, (i.e. tool boxes, their NLRB charge against the Union and permanent replacements). ...

On that note, the NCDC stated that it “communicated to the Union that the NCDC was prepared to continue to bargain regarding all other remaining issues and pursue possible compromises so that the parties might reach an overall tentative agreement on all issues, but the Union has not yet responded to NCDC’s invitation to bargain further.” The NCDC had its meeting on Tuesday (one week after the Union submitted its counter proposal), yet less than 24 hours later it dropped its LBFO offer on you. The NCDC also dealt directly with you by providing you the offer before the Union had a chance to review. The Union has since filed an NLRB charge for bargaining in bad faith as a result of the NCDC’s actions.


Other posts on the union’s websites talked about alleged “scare tactics” and “play[ing] on every fear” by the dealer group. Here’s what a representative from the group told the Chicago Tribune about the union’s NLRB claim:

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.


The union said in a post on its website Sept. 8 that it “understand[s] everyone is anxious to resolve this dispute and get back to work,” and asked members to “please be patient” while it works through the details of the committee’s last offer—and, apparently, the competing NLRB filings between the two.



Technicians claimed that dealerships were pushing their tools outside, canceling their health insurance and hiring people to take their place almost immediately after the strike began.”

I don’t have much of an understanding of how unions or strikes work, and I get that messing with other peoples’ tools is not cool. But if you’re an employer, and your employees go on strike, what’s wrong with firing them and hiring replacements? What are you supposed to do in this situation? If your employees have a valid claim against you, then of course you should negotiate with them. If you’re not treating your employees right, you’ll have high rates of turnover, and that’s bad for everybody. But negotiations can take time, as we can see here. What do you do in the meantime? You’ve got work that needs to be done, and people who won’t do it.