Chicago auto mechanics strike!

From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters

Evanston, Ill.—We’re journeymen, apprentices, semi-skilled, and lube technicians. We do everything from oil changes to brakes, electronics, and suspension work—basically anything to do with a vehicle.

On Aug. 1 we went on strike against about 140 new car dealers in the Chicago area, for a better wage and to change the structure.

It goes lube tech, semi-skilled, apprentice, and then journeyman. Journeyman is the highest position. Right now there’s no structure set up for the semi-skilled, so there’s really no time frame for when they can move to an apprentice.

There used to be a four-year apprenticeship program. Now, it is an eight-year program. Students coming out of trade school in their early 20s realize that if they’re semi-skilled, they will be in their early 30s before they become journeymen. By that time, they want to have a kid or two, start a family, have a mortgage, and that’s hard, because the time frame is so long. They can go to school and become a doctor in less time. I’m about to turn 30, and if I felt it would be like that for me, I probably wouldn’t be in this business.

AT WORK BUT NOT PAID

The way it’s structured now, lube tech, semi-skilled and apprentice are paid hourly. You start at $10 an hour. If you put in 40 hours, you get paid for those 40 hours. But for the journeymen, we have to be physically here 40 hours, but we only have a guarantee of 34 hours of paid work. A lot of times we’re only booking 30 or 32 hours. We’re trying to raise that bar so we can get paid for the amount of time we’re here.

Auto mechanics on strike, picket line in Evanston, Ill., Aug. 14, 2017. Photo for News & Letters by Franklin Dmitryev.

Auto mechanics on strike, picket line in Evanston, Ill., Aug. 14, 2017. Photo: Franklin Dmitryev/News & Letters.

We get paid by the job. But the time allotted for each specific job has been reduced by almost every manufacturer.

Some technicians that we talked to are taking hits because they can’t even see what they get paid. We’re lucky enough to see what we get paid. As long as we replace the failing part—for example, a bad hub bearing—that pays us six tenths of an hour, a little bit more than a half hour, no matter how long the work actually takes.

GM and Ford mechanics don’t even see that, so they don’t know what they’re making until the end of the week, until their warranty administrator claims it and they get the money in return and the administrator says you guys get paid three tenths.

These workers are playing the guessing game about whether they will take home a check for 30 hours or 40 hours. It’s so out of control that we’re fighting to get paid for the 40 hours we are here.

HIGHER PRICES GO TO COMPANY

In the past ten years, the rate the customer is charged for labor has gone up, I would say, an average of about $35 or $40 per hour at each dealership. But we’ve only seen an increase of 26 cents each year in the last 10 years. We have to pay $10 a week on co-pay for our insurance. That wipes out the raise.

We’re asking for a fair wage, and to eliminate the co-pay. We’re asking for a better structure in setting up the semi-skilled and the apprenticeship programs. We want to attract the good young adults out there that want to come to this field and learn. But the time frame is discouraging. We’re fighting for the younger generation, and we’re fighting for us as well, the older generation, so we can have a pension and retire.

OTHER UNIONS SUPPORT STRIKERS

People supporting us have been great: from the Chicago transit workers and AT&T union, other unions, everybody’s reaching out to us; they bring us donuts and coffee in the morning. They’ve been saying, “Stay and fight!” Families have been very supportive to everybody. Strangers honk as they drive by, in the morning and at night. We’re here on the picket line as early as 7:00 AM until 9:00 PM.

We’re not fighting for something unreasonable. We’re fighting so we can help our families succeed in life. I want my son to go to college and to have a better life than me. That’s what we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for the future.

—Striking journeyman

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