Contract ratified at Mercedes Benz
of San Diego

Photo of Mercedes Benz Union Employees

After six years, the techs at Mercedes Benz of San Diego finally have a contract — the first auto contract in San Diego.

Pedro Gomez never expected to help organize a union when he first became an auto mechanic. But 18 years later, that's just what he's done. And he helped organize history, as the 44 mechanics at Mercedes Benz of San Diego are now members of the first automotive union in that city.

Gomez started working as a mechanic in 1998 and moved to the Mercedes Benz shop in 2002. "It was an older shop and the space was cramped," Gomez recalls. "But soon, we moved into a huge facility. However, the mechanics all noticed that while the labor rate charged to customers went up, our pay rate didn't. In fact, we went through many years of not getting any raises. Everybody was complaining, and I just got tired of it."

In 2010, Gomez decided to call the union to see what they could do for the techs. Area Director Jesse Juarez went down to San Diego to talk with them and they liked what they heard. "As soon as we filed our petition with the Labor Board for an election, the company tried to add lots of other workers to the bargaining unit, all with the goal of getting people into the unit who might be more easily convinced to vote against the union," Juarez explains. "The Labor Board saw through that tactic and denied the company's petition. Next the dealership brought in anti-union "direct persuaders," techs from other shops, and Roger Penske, himself. But none of that worked, and the techs voted for union representation."

Alas though, timing is everything. The Labor Board got caught up in the Noel Canning v. NLRB decision, a Supreme Court decision that invalidated all rulings made during the time when Board's membership included two "recess appointments" by the President. For four years, the election was considered neither valid nor invalid. It wasn't until 2014 that a new, legally-constituted Labor Board certified the 2010 election and bargaining could begin.

Talks move slowly until members act

At first the company stalled, hoping to keep the talks going nowhere for a year, which would enable them to spark a decertification election. That didn't work.

"The techs were 100% behind the union" says Gomez. "Our challenge was to get them to take action. We had to show the company that we cared enough to fight."

"To be honest," he adds, "as I was getting ready to throw in the towel, the guys stepped up and that's when everything changed. We held two sick-outs and threatened a few more, letting the company know that we were serious about getting a contract. That's when the talks started moving forward."

Juarez agrees. "The guys started acting like a union even before having a contract. That's what made the difference."

"The more the employer stalled the talks and fought everything the union proposed, the techs got stronger and stronger," says Directing Business Rep Jim Beno. "It took a good year and half of negotiations to get it done… but we did."

Strong first contract

Normally, first contracts are hard-fought and not always the best. "This one is a good first contract. It gives us something to show to the unorganized shops in San Diego who want to know what we can do for them," adds Beno.

Gomez says that the members are excited with the contract. "The wages are a big thing, of course. The guys at the top of the scale won't see an increase this year, but the can look forward to their first-ever scheduled wage increases in the next two years. We focused on the guys who were way underpaid to bring them up to scale. Some of them will get up to an additional $8.50/hour. The flat-rate pay program now spells out, in writing, the incentive pay and proficiency levels. And we have a daily guarantee of 8 hours of pay for 8 hours at work."

Most importantly, the contract includes a clause on "fair dispatching" so that favoritism is discouraged and everybody gets a fair share of the good work and bad work. "And, of course, if there's a problem, we've got a solid grievance procedure," Gomez says

While the members are still on a company health plan, their co-pay share has gone from 50% to 30%, and they now also have vision and dental.

"I'm proud of all the guys and what we accomplished," says Gomez. "Now, the job is to monitor the contract and ensure that the payroll department gets the paperwork done correctly."
In addition to the good contract language, the union facilitated the resolution of several wage and hour cases filed against the company over pay for rest breaks and compensation for unapplied time. These were very lucrative settlements for the technicians involved, with immediate monetary payments and payments for several years into the future.

"This shop has been in turmoil for six years," says Beno. "Now, there will be stability. And, the guys know they have a way to resolve disputes and misunderstandings."

An opportunity in San Diego

Many techs in unorganized shops across San Diego were watching what happened at Mercedes Benz to see if joining a union would be worth it for them. "Now that we have a good contract, we expect to hear from more shops," says Beno.

In fact, Beno saw a notice that the San Diego New Car Dealers Association put out to their membership about the contract that reads, "Unfortunately, we have received notification that Penske has signed a union contract… . This is the first contact in San Diego history... We will have an all-dealer meeting in June. Be vigilant about union talk or activity."

Beno responds, saying, "obviously, these dealers don't want to pay good wages or give their employees rights on the job. Only when you get a union contract can you play on a level playing field with the dealers, otherwise they always have the upper hand."

Gomez agrees. "Management will never stop. We've got to be organized just because they are."

Currently the Machinists are in stalled contract talks with Mossey Nissan in Oceanside. "I'm anxious to work with the guys at Mossey," says Gomez. "I told them that we're not the success story for finally getting a contract. It took us six years. If they can get it done faster, then they'll be the success story."

"Despite the time that it took to get this contract, it was worth it to me," says Juarez. "Mission accomplished!"


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