GAIN Group Subaru and Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Nanaimo and Three Point Motors in Victoria are behind picket lines.
Sixty automotive detailers, technicians and service advisors who are unionized under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 456, went on strike Friday morning in a dispute with GAIN Group over wages and benefits to be included in a new labour contract.
John Humphrey, the union’s business representative and organizer, said negotiations between GAIN and the union started in late August, but the company is “trying to gut the contract” by changing contract wording and making other changes affecting overtime, sick benefits and apprenticeships. He also said the company has tried to deny him access to the unionized employees.
Humphrey said the union is asking for three-per cent wage increases for each year of the three-year contract.
“Which is average … my last six contracts here on the Island have been all three, three and threes,” he said.
He said he wants to bring the wages of GAIN Group workers in Nanaimo on par with employees in Victoria.
“We’re trying to get wage parity because what happens is they pay these guys different from what they do in Victoria and a long time ago they used to use the excuse that Victoria’s more expensive than Nanaimo,” he said. “I live in Nanaimo. We can all agree we’re just like … Victoria.”
Humphrey said workers are prepared to strike until GAIN “gets back to the table and [sits] down with us and negotiate the contract these people deserve.”
In a statement issued by the GAIN Group on Friday, the company expressed surprise at the job action and apologized to customers and employees who want to work for any inconvenience caused by the strike.
“We have been trying to reach a new collective agreement with the union that represent our service employees since September,” the statement noted. “Our technicians and other employees currently receive some of the highest wages, RRSPs and benefits of any dealership on the Island in addition to money for work boots and tools, comprehensive health and dental benefits, guaranteed hours of pay per week, and much more. They are also comparable to the top dealerships in Vancouver.
“The union demands include wage increases as high as 33 per cent in the first year with many increases greater than 20 per cent and 10 per cent. We are conscious that any significant increase in costs will lead to incresed costs to our customers.”
The statement went on to say GAIN’s wage and RRSP increase proposals are in line with the cost of living and provincial guidelines and company’s dealership proposals also recognize differences between Nanaimo and Victoria markets.
“The union has used hardball, ‘take it or leave it’ tactics in these negotiations, refusing to meet with the dealership to bargain, refusing to discuss dealership proposals, refusing to minimize inconvenience to customers, rotating strikes, and misleading employees about a range of issues. The union tactics resulted in a ‘bargaining in bad faith’ complaint being filed against the union.”
The strike does not affect GAIN Group’s other automotive brands dealerships, which are not unionized.
Keith Ladouceur, general manager of the Nanaimo Mercedes-Benz and BMW/Mini dealerships, said business continued as usual Friday “as best as we can manage.”
“It’s not a personal issue with the employees and, so far, it’s been a respectful demonstration. We’ve been able to maintain the sales side of things and, to the best of our ability, help keep the dealership moving forward,” Ladouceur said. “Keep in mind there are four dealerships on this site and only two of those dealerships have union members, so it’s really about supporting the bigger picture … our clients, who are very important to us and the business itself.”