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Old 11-30-2003, 07:59   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Ford dealer mechanics seek union

Texas effort underscores tension sparked when firm reduced pay for warranty work

By Jeff Plungis / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Some auto mechanics at Ford Motor Co. dealerships -- fed up with a reduction in pay for warranty repair work -- are mounting a drive to unionize, underscoring continuing tension between the automaker and its dealers.

In one of the latest efforts, service technicians at Payton-Wright Ford in Grapevine, Texas, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board last month. If a majority of the dealer's 34 technicians agree to unionize during a secret ballot vote next month, they will be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The Grapevine dealership would be the first auto repair shop unionized in Texas, said Mark Hammond, an IAM organizer in the state. The IAM previously has organized mechanics at dealers in Washington, California, Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts.

Many Ford technicians have been unhappy since 1998, when the Dearborn automaker reduced the number of hours it would pay for the completion of car and truck repairs under warranty. The technicians say the cuts were out of line with their real-world experience.

"This has become a big, growing thing," Hammond said. "They're skilled technicians, and they feel like they're being treated less than that. The companies don't acknowledge their skills. We've got a good bunch of guys out there, and I think we'll win."

As part of its recruiting drive, the union promises technicians better wages, pensions, benefits, shifts and working conditions.

A national shortage of skilled technicians also gives the union some leverage in recruiting members.

The IAM currently represents 45,000 auto and truck service technicians in the United States and Canada. The union says its automotive division is one of its fastest-growing bargaining units. IAM has organized seven repair shops so far this year, according to its Web site.

AutoNation Inc., the new car dealer holding company that owns Payton-Wright Ford, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Some of the interest in unions has been fueled by Web sites like flatratetech.com, which was started in 2000 to air grievances by Ford mechanics, said Carl Medlock, a Ford master service technician in Everett, Wash.

Medlock said the site had been contacted by hundreds of shops looking to organize. Technicians currently have little standing with Ford Motor Co., Medlock said, because they are not Ford employees.

There already are 3,300 Ford technicians who are members of the IAM. Some technicians hope to boost that number and file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of IAM represented mechanics for back wages.

Mark Ward, a Eufaula, Okla., Ford technician said he will lose close to $10,000 this year because of Ford's limits on warranty repairs.

"There are a lot of technicians leaving because they can't make as much," Ward said. "It's time to bring this trade up to a level of respect. We'll organize, then we'll let the dealers deal with Ford."

At least one other Texas dealership was ready to file a petition to organize with the labor board, perhaps as early as Monday, Ward said.

"Ford Motor Co. is neutral in this matter," Ford spokesman Glenn Ray said. "This is an issue between the dealer and its employees."

Ford reduced some of its warranty time allotments after a major review in 1998. The company also increased time allowed for certain repairs. In September, responding to the outcry from mechanics, Ford formed a panel of technicians to review the repair times. The 40-member panel meets every three months with company officials.

What's next

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is trying to organize auto mechanics at a Ford dealership in Texas. Here's how the process works:

* The union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Oct. 29.

* The NLRB must certify that at least 30 percent of the mechanics are seeking representation.

* Within 42 days, the mechanics will conduct a secret ballot election supervised by the NLRB.

* If a majority chooses to join, the IAM can begin negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the dealer.

Source: National Labor Relations Board
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