While researching a recent story on how Ernie Boch Jr. beat a union drive at his Boch Honda store, I learned that organizing a dealership is at least as difficult as organizing an auto plant in the South.
The odds are stacked astronomically against a successful campaign.
Let me state upfront that my father was a UAW-represented electrician at a General Motors plant in Detroit. As such, I have some sense of the value and downside of being in a bargaining unit.
But after researching what Boch did at his store near Boston and talking with experts in the field, I’m floored any dealership in America could be organized if the dealer principal opposed the drive.
Boch’s tactics were textbook.
Once mechanics at Boch Honda won an organizing election by one vote with the Machinist union, Boch negotiated for 18 months without ever reaching a deal. He never did sign a contract.
Over that time, workers and the Machinists union District Lodge 15 filed 30 complaints with the National Labor Relations Board over their treatment, some of which resulted in board-monitored monetary settlements for the workers.
Ultimately, enough union supporters among the mechanics left the store, opening the door for their replacements to boot out the union through a decertification vote.
Jim Hendricks, a Chicago attorney who has represented dealerships and other businesses against 300 union organizing drives, said there’s a variety of ways to legally get mechanics to leave if you don’t like their union proclivities.
A tried-and-true technique is to “starve” them out, Hendricks said. That’s a process whereby management assigns targeted mechanics the toughest, most time-consuming jobs. A good example is diagnosing and fixing an electrical problem, Hendricks said.
Mechanics typically are paid a flat fee per task. So if an electrical fix is paid on the basis that it should take four hours to complete, but it takes much longer than that, the mechanic is out all the time beyond four hours.
Losing that time means he or she can’t be doing another paid job. It doesn’t take too many of those money-losing tasks before a talented mechanic, who has to feed a family, goes looking for a more lucrative job.
The replacement is likely to quickly discover, if he or she doesn’t already know, how hard it becomes to make a living as a union sympathizer.
Hendricks advises that store management treat workers right in the first place so as not to draw the attention of unions.
Many stores have taken to paying their electrical whiz not only a flat fee per job but a salary as well in recognition of the difficulty of those fixes, Hendricks said.
“[The mechanic] becomes your partner,” he said.
Ernie Boch beat the union at his Boch Honda. But, honestly, that’s not saying much.