The Chicago dealers whose techs went on strike have complaints of their own. Greg Webb, a partner at Packey Webb Ford in Downers Grove, says the strike "cost the mechanics and us a lot of money, and neither of us is getting it back."
"The dealerships that weren't on strike had so much [service] business, they were turning it away," Webb says. "If some of my customers went to another Ford store and got taken care of properly, there's a real possibility they may not come back here."
Richard Fisher's seven dealerships in the Autobarn group endured the strike. He says the cost of the new contract will make it even harder for his company to stay competitive.
"The [pay] rates of all of our mechanics have gone up sharply," Fisher says. "Inevitably, the things we care about — giving great service to our customers and attracting young people to the business — will be stymied if our costs continue to climb."
Fisher and some other dealers worked to dissociate themselves from the dealership bargaining committee and cut their own deals with their striking techs. "We felt they were our guys first and union guys second, and we wanted to get them back to work," he says. "I felt bitter in the overall way [the strike] was managed by both sides. I feel, ultimately, the strike was unnecessary."
Even after the strike, industry observers say dealerships in Chicago and elsewhere aren't properly preparing their service departments and training their shop employees for innovations such as emerging electric and autonomous vehicles.
Steve Tomory, who teaches automotive technology at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif., predicts service technician training will need to become based more heavily on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) topics. A tech's job, he says, "may become more of a salary-based position."
In Chicago and everywhere else, says Thompson of Pittsburg State, the primary responsibility for redefining the role of service technicians to accommodate a changing industry rests with dealers and automakers.
"The manufacturers will have to partner up with the dealers and say, 'How do we grow this work force?'" Thompson says.
Rob Gehring, a fixed operations consultant in Huron, Ohio, agrees.
"I have said technician is a good career many times," Gehring says. "But the attitude needs to change at the dealership and manufacturer level."
He adds: "I wouldn't be a technician."