A group of Ford and Lincoln-Mercury service technicians, frustrated by reductions in Ford Motor Co.'s reimbursements for warranty repairs, has been spearheading a drive to get service technicians to unionize.
Mark Ward, a Ford master technician, and three other senior service technicians met late last year with the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers (IAM) in Washington to discuss an organizing drive in Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealership service shops.
Mr. Ward, 34, founded www.flatratetech.com, a popular Internet meeting place for Ford and Lincoln-Mercury service technicians to share information and address common concerns.
Mr. Ward, who works at Eufaula Ford Mercury Inc. in Eufaula, Okla., said the union is the best alternative for technicians who deal with the financial hardship that results from Ford's reduced warranty labor times.
Looking for an answer
``It has been a long and thought-out process, and we believe we have found an answer to our problems,'' Mr. Ward said.
``We believe it is with the IAM.''
But Mr. Ward and his group face an uphill battle because unionization is an issue that would have to be worked out between individual dealerships and their employees.
``They are going to have a very difficult time rallying the kind of industrywide support they need to do,'' said Tony Molla, vice president of industry affairs at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence in Leesburg, Va.
While some dealership service technicians have union representation, it is mostly a Michigan phenomenon, Mr. Molla said.
``This has been tried before. It seems like every five years we go through this cycle,'' he said.
The IAM represents about 3,800 service technicians in 133 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in the U.S. But there are 45,000 service technicians at those shops, according to Ford. The auto maker has about 4,000 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.
Reason for dispute
At the heart of the dispute are changes that the auto maker has been making in warranty repair procedures since 1998. Ford revised its labor time standards, which reduced the amount of time Ford allows for performing warranty work by about 24 percent across the board.
``With the labor times getting lower and lower, we realized that we needed to address this in one voice,'' Mr. Ward said. ``And now Ford is planning additional reductions in the times. We have to have some collective bargaining power.''
Mr. Ward said he likely earned $10,000 less in 2003 because of the reduction in labor time standards while doing the same amount of work.
Flatratetech.com gives examples of how Ford is saving money by reducing warranty labor times. On one recall involving 506,000 Taurus sedans, flatratetech.com notes that Ford saved more than $6 million by reducing the labor time for the recall work to 0.6 hours from 0.8 hours.
Mr. Ward said service technicians have not gotten satisfaction on the matter through the Ford dealer council.
Ford was aware that technicians affiliated with flatratetech.com had approached the union.
``The union issue is really between the dealer and the dealership employees, and we don't really track it,'' said Marti Benedetti, a spokeswoman for the Ford Customer Service Division.
Ford continually reviews its standards, ``and we think our labor rates are fair,'' she said.
Ford last conducted a comprehensive review of warranty and recall repair times in 1998.
``That was the first time they did a review since the '50s, so it was a big deal when they did it,'' Ms. Benedetti said. ``It was a two-year period and was the result of scientific time studies utilizing trained technicians.''