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Unionizing technicians represent a wake-up call to nation's dealers

November 23, 2010
Overlooking the satisfaction levels of dealership technicians may come at a price. Take Jerry's Weatherford Chevrolet, based in Weatherford, Texas, where techs voted to unionize. Their sealed ballots await a count in Washington, D.C. If the votes favor a union, the store would become the Lone Star state's first union shop. Union officials said similar efforts are underway at other stores. "These technicians were neglected," said Don Allen, a manager at Jerry's, noting top managers focused more attention on guiding facility construction and growth. "It caught up with us." The store's immediate concern is ensuring techs at other stores within the dealer group are satisfied with their work situation. The unionizing effort at the Texas store is one of many cropping up across the country. Other hotspots include California, Michigan and scattered states in the Northeast. Organizers say techs are concerned about loss of income due to factory cuts in labor time standards for warranty work (an issue most profound at Ford stores), rising healthcare costs and the lack of a voice in decision about workplace issues. The latter point may seem trivial, but it could make the difference. Techs content with their situations are less likely to show interest in any union entreaties. Among practices to keep techs satisfied: • Monthly meetings. They should be constructive sessions where techs can express concerns and know managers will consider them. "They've got to know they have a voice. If we need to change something, we do it," said one St. Louis dealer. • Benchmark the dealership pay plan. In today's world of higher medical costs, healthcare benefits can mean more than hourly pay increases for techs. Full hospitalization and coverage for spouses are items of increasing importance to techs. • Watch out for seniority-based pay. Service directors suggest basing hourly wages on efficiency, productivity, customer satisfaction and education levels as a more equitable way to determine base rates and pay increases rather than relying strictly on seniority. Such pay plans can cause frustration among younger techs. The law firm Franczek Sullivan P.C. represnts CATA dealers in labor and employment matters. To discuss any unionizing attempts, member dealers should call the firm at 312-986-0300.