A grassroots organizing effort by some Ford service technicians has taken a big first step with successful votes to unionize at two Ford Motor Co. dealerships in Michigan.
In January, service technicians at Cole Story Ford in Coldwater, Mich., voted in favor of representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). Service techs at Jackson Ford in Jackson, Mich., had voted in December for representation by the same union.
But at a third dealership-Payton-Wright Ford in Grapevine, Texas-the union withdrew its petition to hold a secret ballot there because it determined the outcome would have been too close.
The techs at the two Michigan dealerships and union negotiators now begin the task of negotiating their first collective bargaining agreements with dealership management. With the successful votes, the union gains eight members from Cole Story Ford and 13 members from Jackson Ford.
The union drive was instigated by a group of Ford and Lincoln-Mercury service technicians who were frustrated by reductions in the auto maker's reimbursements for warranty repairs. The technicians have been able to reach fellow technicians around the country through their Web site, www.flatratetech.com. It has been a popular place for Ford and Lincoln-Mercury techs to share service-related information as well as address common concerns such as the reduction in pay for warranty repair work.
Mark Ward, a Ford master technician, said the union is the best alternative for techs who deal with the financial hardship that results from Ford's reduced warranty labor times.
Mr. Ward acknowledged the drive to organize mechanics is a slow process but predicted once technicians across the country see successful votes, the process will snowball. ``I have three other campaigns that we're getting ready to file petitions on in Michigan, one of them just a couple blocks from Ford's world headquarters, so they are highly motivated,'' said Mr. Ward, who works in the service bays at Eufaula Ford in Eufaula, Okla. Other dealerships in Texas also are targeted.
Managers at Jackson Ford contended the unit that would vote on representation must include more than just the 12 service technicians. They asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to rule that the unit must include the rest of the service department, which consists of three service advisers, a dispatcher, five parts department employees, two body shop employees and two porters. But the board ruled the 12 service techs constitute an appropriate bargaining unit and have little to do with the rest of the service department employees.
Ford did not comment for this story; but the car maker has said in the past that any attempt by service technicians to form a union in a car dealership is a matter between the dealer and his or her employees.
To schedule a vote in a dealership, the union files a petition with the NLRB. The board must certify that at least 30 percent of the mechanics are seeking representation before scheduling a secret ballot election.
``I'm in contact with 14 Ford dealerships just in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,'' Mr. Ward said. ``It takes time to get these things going. They are still rallying their troops. They've all been sitting around watching and seeing who goes first, who breaks the barrier in Texas.''
The organizing drive has touched mechanics outside Ford, too. ``I've had contact from Florida,'' Mr. Ward said, ``and they weren't Ford techs-they were General Motors (Corp.) techs.''
The IAMAW union already represents about 3,800 service technicians in 133 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in the U.S. There are about 4,000 Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships across the country.
Reimbursement for warranty repairs is an issue that cuts across all makes, not just Ford, said Beau Jencks, one of the union's organizers in Michigan.
``We pretty much don't actively go out and try to find people,'' he said. ``We have people come to us. That's basically how our program works. The people at the dealerships contact us, and at that point we talk to them, tell them what our program is and what we need to do.
``But that's what started bringing a lot of Ford techs to us,'' Mr. Jencks said. ``And flatratetech.com didn't hurt much either.''