1,700 Chicago Area Auto Mechanics On Strike Amid Contract Dispute

CHICAGO (CBS) — Roughly 1,700 auto mechanics at more than 130 Chicago area dealerships were on strike Tuesday morning, after an overnight deadline to agree on a new contract passed without a deal.

The strike began at midnight, after the mechanics rejected a contract proposal from the Chicago Automobile Trade Association. Negotiations on a three-year contract officially fell apart Monday night.

Blasting an offer they call subpar, hundreds of mechanics swapped screwdrivers for picket signs on Tuesday.

“I believe that this is just as important as working with my tools,” Alfredo Arcel said after going on strike.

Arcel said he’s worried about the demands the job places on younger employees.

“It took me two years to become a journeyman back when I started in this business, and they’re asking these guys basically to give up 8 years of their lives to learn the trade,” he said.

That’s just one of the sticking points between Automobile Mechanics’ Local 701 and the Chicago Automobile Trade Association. Compensation in the ever-advancing industry bothers many.

“Cars are constantly changing,” mechanic Stephen Gajda said. “It takes a talented, skilled tradesman to be able to understand and repair those cars for people; to keep them safe on the road.”

CATA said it is disappointed in the mechanics’ decision to strike; they said they offered a 5 percent annual pay increases over the next three years, full pension payments, and full family health care.

The union has said it also wants a guaranteed 40-hour work week, and better wages for apprentice mechanics. The union felt mechanics have not been paid for all of the hours they work. Other sticking points include non-consecutive days off.

The strike affects more than 130 of the approximately 420 new car dealerships in the Chicago area. At least some service shops anticipated the strike, and warned customers weeks ago.

“They’ve been sending notes out to their customers, saying, ‘Hey, let’s get this service done, or let’s postpone, or let’s call before you come in; things like that to try and make it as painless as possible for the consumer,” CATA spokesman Mark Bilek said.

However, some worried about what the strike means for people in need of car repairs.

“If you need it fixed that day, it’s difficult. Now you have to rush around and find another place, and what if you’re pressed for time? You know, you go to that mechanic and all of a sudden they say, ‘No, we can’t take care of you.’ Well, now you’re going to find somebody else, and now you might like that other person,” Michael Spada said.

Customers might get frustrated, but Joe Rizza Ford & Lincoln service director David Claster said, historically, such labor disputes blow over.

“We went through this in 1994, and by and large most of our regular customers were patient with it,” he said.

If your car is in need of repairs, you should call your service shop to make sure it is open during the strike.

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