On the Picket Line

Chicago auto mechanics strike car dealers to defend union, pay

By Naomi Craine
August 30, 2021

CHICAGO — More than 800 auto mechanics at 56 new car dealerships have been walking picket lines around the Chicago metro area since Aug. 2. The day before, International Association of Machinists Automobile Mechanics Union Local 701 members rejected contract demands from the bosses’ New Car Dealership Committee that would substantially undermine the power of their union.

One of the central issues is the bosses’ demand for a “most favored nation” clause in the contract. “That means if they find language in any other automotive contract that they find more favorable, they can pull it out and impose it without any negotiations,” Ronnie Gonzalez, Local 701 business representative,  told the Militant. “This undermines the entire bargaining process.”

The bosses’ association also wants to make it easier to reduce the weekly pay guarantee for journeymen mechanics, who currently get 34 hours pay for being at work 40 hours a week. The workers, who get paid by the job, receive at least this much weekly, regardless of whether work is slow or they’re assigned jobs that take longer than the “standard.”

Also at stake are contributions to the union’s health and welfare fund. The bosses claim it’s “overfunded,” so they shouldn’t have to continue paying into it as much.

“They want to wait us out, but we’ll wait them out,” Mike Burton told the Militant while picketing Webb Chevrolet in the Oak Lawn suburb Aug. 10. “We struck for seven weeks last time, and we’re willing to do it again.”

Most of the strikers are veterans of that fight four years ago, when Local 701 fought to shorten apprenticeships from eight years to four. The contract they finally ratified in 2017 included a five-year apprenticeship program.

Unlike during the last strike, about half of the dealerships with unionized mechanics have broken from the New Car Dealership Committee and already signed a contract that includes neither the “most favored nation” clause nor the attack on the weekly guarantee. “Fifty-five dealers have signed, and we’re working on more,” Gonzalez said.

Lube techs and “semiskilled” workers are also on strike. Matt Power, who works as a semiskilled technician, said the managers keep giving him more tasks that are usually done by journeymen, at less than half the pay. This is an attempt to divide workers, he said, one that needs to be combated.

“I understand what the union fights for,” he said, noting it’s his first time on strike. “I’m fighting for my future.”