Mechanics in Chicago are giving up their wages to protest a new contract that would increase their pay. 

Many mechanics feared that this increase would have been temporary under the first draft of this contract, which led to an overwhelming majority voting to strike. Around 800 workers began picketing on August 2nd, and have been continuing for several weeks to the chagrin of the mechanics’ union and dealerships’ contract writers. On paper, negotiations had begun July 17th — however several delays slowed down bargaining significantly. In this debacle, every day that mechanics spend striking is another day’s worth of revenue and wages thrown away. 

In the first days of negotiations, Local 701 — Chicagoland’s mechanics union — wanted to remove the Most Favored Nation Language (MFN) clause entirely, because it would allow the lowest wages in any dealership to be applied to all mechanics in all dealerships. At one point, the Chicago New Car Dealers Committee (NCDC) — a group within Chicago’s dealership committee that bargains specifically with Local 701 — entirely removed this portion from the proposal in hopes to expedite negotiations. However, Local 701 still refused, and the NCDC put the MFN back in with several changes that addressed the union’s previous concerns. Now the NCDC is awaiting a counterproposal. 

“I am not even sure what is going on anymore,” said one mechanic. 

This strike is not new for either party. In 2017, a strike had arisen because of an inadequate contract that did not address payment issues. Both Ronnie Gonzalez — Local 701’s spokesperson — and Dave Sloan — The president of the NCDC’s parent organization, CATA — have stated that they anticipated the strike and were attempting to counteract it. However, as is evident by the continuing strike, both parties failed to stop it. 

Gonzalez explains, “we were ready to bargain as early as February. And we sent out notices that, you know, we are ready and prepared to sit down. We did not … have our first meeting until June. The lack of cooperation from the other side … kind of foiled our attempts to prevent a strike.” 

When discussing these early proposals, Sloan said with a laugh, “[the Union] had sort of a long, long 10-year-old’s Christmas list of demands that they wouldn’t let go. So there was no reason to talk to them [about it] in February.” With a refusal to meet, the NCDC stopped negotiations from progressing for several months. 

However, the NCDC did have a reason behind this ignorance. Sloan added that “[they] were working very closely with the union over the last six months to pass [House Bill 3940, a bill that would guarantee pay for warranty work,] which addresses the biggest issue of the strike four years ago … [But] not knowing [when] the bill was going to come out, it didn’t make any sense for [them] to start talking back then.” 

When the current proposal was sent out to Local 701, almost 100% of mechanics voted to dismiss it and go on strike, partly because of the MFN’s inclusion. When asked about this topic, a local mechanic replied, “well, I thought it was a complete waste of time, and [the NCDC is] just stalling it so they can adjust pay as time goes on, [because] they have no set wage.” 

But Local 701 considered this to be a concerning clause. In its first iteration, the MFN language allowed the NCDC to apply one’s stores wages and policies in every store that it managed. Mechanics considered this language to be troubling, as more rural dealerships had lower wages because of less business and revenue, which could then be applied to every mechanic in Chicago. 

“That MFN language gives them the ability to just basically go take the best things for them, even though they don’t have the same circumstances that those shops have,” said Gonzalez. At the time of his interview, however, most of his issues with the clause were already written out of the contract. 

When talking about the NCDC’s efforts to fix the MFN clause, Sloan disclosed, “Now, the union says well, then you can go back and take the lower [wages in some small town in Indiana]. And we said, okay, we [rewrote] it, so [we’re confining it to Chicago and] only looking forward … We wrote it that way. But of course, it wasn’t communicated that way. And it became this big Boogeyman that the [mechanics] don’t want any part of.” 

As the strike drags on, both Local 701 and the NCDC will have to make concessions if they want to get their mechanics back to work. As Gonzalez previously noted, the NCDC’s refusal to negotiate months in advance stopped any plans the union had to prevent a strike, and Local 701’s hesitance to meet with the NCDC has led to uncertainty and anxiety. Both have led to wasted time among both parties. However, the one party that doesn’t have any extra time to give is Chicagoland’s mechanics. 

“We’re out here making a sacrifice, you know. We all have families,” said one Chicagoland mechanic.