Lakehead Motors mechanics take to the picket line

THUNDER BAY – Mechanics and technicians at a local car dealership traded their tools for picket signs and walked off the job after negotiations with management came to a standstill.

Since Wednesday at 2:30 p.m., 37 members of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1120 at Lakehead Motors have been on strike.

The union, which represents more than 150 mechanics at several dealerships in Thunder Bay, has been without a contract since Mar. 1, 2017, and has been in a legal strike position since Aug. 1.

“We were left with no other option and that is why we are here,” said Peter Topetto, president and directing business representative with Local Lodge 1120.

According to Topetto, members were forced to take job action after management at Lakehead Motors did not respond to an outstanding offer made by the union.

Four other dealerships in the city have already ratified agreements with members of Local 1120, but Lakehead Motors is the only dealership to not reach a deal.

“They are all fair agreements that the members have accepted and all we want is to get the same type of offer so we can make a fair agreement with this owner and it doesn’t seem to be forth coming,” Topetto said.

Topetto added he was told Lakehead Motors is in a unique position because of the way their manufacturer reimburses them for pay to the members.

“Other dealerships have the same issues, but they seem fit to give us a fair offer and they settled,” he said. “I can’t address the issues with their manufacturers.”

Some of the major issues under negotiation are pensions and wages. Other dealerships have come to an agreement of an eight per cent wage increase over three years.

Danny Ariganello, a service technician who has worked at Lakehead Motors for 17 years, said similar job action was taken nine years ago at the dealership and the members are just looking for what is fair.

“We just want to receive the same, nothing above or beyond, nothing more than anyone else already has,” he said.

Ariganello added mechanics are not being reimbursed for time spent training outside of regular working hours.

“We are doing 16 or 17 hour days for training and we would like to be reimbursed and paid our travel time,” he said.

For Robert Deschene, who has been a mechanic with Lakehead Motors for the last three years but has 37 years of experience, pensions are top of mind.

“It’s all about pay wage and pension,” he said. “They are trying to hold the pensions. Pensions help when you retire. If you have no pension, you can’t really retire. At my age, I need a pension.”

In a statement, Greg Cieslik, vice president and general manager at Lakehead Motors, said he hopes the situation will be resolved amicably but added he could not get into specific detail regarding any negotiations.

Lakehead Motors remained open on Thursday, but Topetto said vehicles that would be serviced at the Memorial Avenue location are being taken elsewhere.

“Anybody now who thinks their vehicles are being fixed by Lakehead Motors, he is taking them to other dealerships and repair places that are not certified,” Topetto said. “The only certified people to be repairing Chrysler products are standing on this line. From this point on, from yesterday to today, anything being told to the customer is being repaired, is not being repaired by a certified technician.”

When asked, Cieslik would not comment on where vehicles are being repaired.

Workers walking the picket line said they want to get back to work as soon as possible and hope a fair agreement will be reached.

“We need the dealer principal to come out and give us a fair offer,” Topetto said. “We will be more than willing to look at whatever offer he puts on the table.”

“There is nothing we want to do more than fix the customer’s car,” Ariganello added. “We work for the customers. We receive a pay cheque from Lakehead Motors, but our primarily goal here is to work for the customer.”

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