After striking for nearly a week, a union representing almost 2,000 auto mechanics across the Chicago area is set to return to the bargaining table.
The strike took effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. A federal mediator directed the union and the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee, which bargains for the dealerships, to start up negotiations Monday.
The Automobile Mechanics’ Union Local 701 wants a guaranteed 40-hour workweek, Sam Cicinelli, directing business representative for Local 701 said last week. Other sticking points include work rules that interfere with members’ family time and barriers to entry into the industry, the union says.
As a result of the strike, service and repairs at many of the almost 140 affected new car dealerships in the Chicago area are at a standstill.
Most dealers have contacted customers with scheduled service appointments to inform them of the strike, and some are directing drivers to nonunion repair shops if necessary, said Mark Bilek, senior director of communications for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.
Napleton Ford in Libertyville, for example, canceled at least 100 service appointments last week and stopped scheduling for this week, said Natalie Trimarco, a service adviser at the dealership.
“Today we put a couple batteries in ourselves as advisers,” she said. “These are our loyal customers, and we want to make sure they come back when this is all said and done.”
Cadillac owner Delia Aldridge, of Palatine, got a call from her dealership last week canceling the service appointment she had scheduled for Wednesday.
“They called me to say, ‘Sorry, we can’t do it because of the strike. We’ll call you when we can,'” she said. “How long can you wait? My husband said nothing’s going to happen, but … I don’t want to be broken down in the middle of the road.”
Aldridge gets certain services, such as tire rotations and oil changes, for free from her dealership up until a certain mileage, she said. “If by next week I don’t hear anything, probably I need to do something else,” she said.
Many dealers have notices on their websites, warning customers of the strike.
Bill Stasek Chevrolet in Wheeling asked customers to call the dealership directly with any questions.
“Due to a strike of the Local 701 mechanics union, we are no longer able to take online requests for the service or parts department,” a notice on its website reads.
Across the street at Checkpoint Tire Centers, manager Jose Campos has been watching the mechanics picket outside the dealership. But customers who’ve been turned away aren’t coming over to his shop.
“To be honest, nothing has changed,” Campos said. “We have customers set already.”
Some dealerships not involved in the strike have emailed customers to let them know their shops are up and running.
“As a valued customer, we wanted to notify you that our service department is still open and operating as normal, and all our technicians are working,” said an email from Grossinger Honda in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.
It also offered 10 percent off customers’ next service visit if they mention the email.
There are about 420 new car dealerships in the Chicago area. Of those, about 180 are unionized. In Illinois, there are no partially unionized dealerships. The mechanics at each dealership decide if they will be in the union. The dealerships affected by this strike are those that bargain through the New Car Dealer Committee.
The last mechanics strike involving Local 701 occurred in 1994, Cicinelli said. According to reports in the Chicago Tribune at the time, that strike affected about 2,700 mechanics.
Bilek, who spoke on behalf of the Chicago New Car Dealer Committee, said it was unclear how long the negotiations would take.
“Unfortunately, this is going to be a process,” he said Monday morning. “Whether it happens quickly or not, we’ll find out more today.”
A list of the affected dealerships can be found on Local 701’s website, www.mech701.org/saa.html.