Not easy to get rich being an auto mechanic. Just to get started, you have to foot the bill for the basic training course which runs about $30k; but the total training tab can reach $55k or more.
Once the training is done, a mechanic can continue doing minimum-wage work for an indefinite period of time before being promoted to ‘semi-skilled’, where he or she can earn $10-$12/hour. It’s better than minimum wage, but not by much, and a semi-skilled mechanic needs his or her own tools, to the tune of $30 to 40k. After another indefinite period as a ‘semi-skilled’ mechanic, the next step is promotion to apprentice, which pays $13 to $26/hour depending on experience; the apprenticeship period was extended in recent union contracts from 4 to 8 years. Still hard to move out of your parents’ basement.
If, after years of working for minimal pay, you get to be a “journeyman” mechanic, you get the “incentive rate” of $32.30/hour. However, that does not mean you actually get paid that rate per hour. Instead, pay is based on “standard” times it takes to do a repair, as determined by the auto manufacturer. Some tasks are rated to take a certain time but could take much longer. So generally mechanics spend at least 40 hours working, but get paid for about 34 hours. And they must continue buying tools. One Chevy guy told me he has over $100,000 worth of tools!
Most of us have seen the picketing mechanics outside auto dealers and garages recently. About 2000 mechanics at 140 dealers in the Chicago area are on strike. Why are they striking? According to the Automobile Mechanics Local 701, they are looking for better wages for apprentices, a 40-hour work week (so they can rely on their wages like anyone earning a salary does), and better work schedules.
DuPage Democrats Chair Bob Peickert, along with two vice chairs and a volunteer, went to stand with strikers at at least 8 dealers Saturday August 5. Most of the guys there said that their employers were fair, but some of the bigger dealers are using their outsize leverage to drive unreasonably hard bargaining positions, and some are using unconscionable tactics in these negotiations. It has been alleged that at Cadillac of Naperville, a salesman aimed his car at the strikers. And at least one dealer — Napleton Cadillac in Libertyville– left their striking mechanics’ tools outside and unsecured, out in the rain to rust or be stolen.
The mechanics are asking for a fair deal, and if we want to continue to receive quality work at area dealerships, it is in all of our best interest to support them. They aren’t asking to become rich, just to be able to support their families and live and work with some dignity. They could use our support. Visit with them. Call the dealers and tell them you support the mechanics and want them to be able to afford to keep working on your car (see link to a list of DuPage area dealers below). And honk and wave when you drive by.