New Chicago tech contract addresses pay, seniority

Demands for changes in pay and seniority practices were at the heart of the summer strike by union-represented service technicians at Chicago-area dealerships. The contract settlement addresses both issues.

Techs in Chicago, like many others across the country, work under a hybrid pay plan that is based heavily on compensation at a flat rate by the job but also includes an hourly rate. They earn more by achieving productivity incentives.

A flat-rate system, sometimes called book time, is an industry standard set by automakers that defines the amount of time required for a repair job.

Harold Santamaria, a former service tech who teaches automotive technology at Truman College in Chicago, offers an example: For pay purposes, the “book” might say that fixing a water pump takes three hours, even if the actual repair takes more or less time.

The old Chicago contract guaranteed techs 34 hours of pay each week; the new four-year agreement guarantees 35 hours in the first three years and 36 in the final year.

To receive that guaranteed pay, a tech generally must work at least 40 hours a week, Santamaria says. He or she also must book a “magic number”of hours each week; that figure varies by dealership based on cost and profitability benchmarks, Santamaria adds.

Techs often beat book time and start a new repair job while they still are being paid for the previous one.

A “really good, productive” tech might generate 50 or 60 hours’ worth of service revenue during a 40-hour workweek, notes Rob Gehring, president of Fixed Performance Inc., a fixed ops consulting firm in Huron, Ohio.

Booking more hours can add to a tech’s hourly pay. In the first year of the new Chicago contract, a tech who books 60 hours a week can collect $1.70 more an hour after the guaranteed 35 hours.

Warranty work complicates the pay plan because automakers generally assign fewer hours to those repairs.

The three-hour water pump repair might book only two hours for a car or truck under warranty, Santamaria says.

The automakers’ rationale is that warranty vehicles are newer, thus repairs are less complicated and time-consuming.

The new contract also will make it easier for younger service techs in Chicago to climb the career ladder, advocates say. The rungs of that ladder proceed from entry-level lube technician to semiskilled tech to apprentice to journeyman.

A veteran employee then can display the skills to become a master technician for the brands of vehicles the dealership sells.

The Chicago contract shortens apprenticeships from 10 to five years and enables semiskilled technicians to seek apprenticeships after 24 months.