By COLIN STAUB
Just a week after its mechanics announced they want a union, Jim Fisher Volvo hired a union-busting consultant and began scheduling mandatory anti-union meetings.
The union campaign at the family-owned dealership began in early January when mechanic Connor Hogan contacted Machinists District Lodge W24. After working at Jim Fisher Volvo for seven years, Hogan was making $26.50 an hour as a licensed Volvo mechanic, and was ready to make a change.
“I was actually almost going to change careers, because I was just so tired of not being paid well,” he told the Labor Press.
Instead, he called Machinists District Lodge W24, and talked with his coworkers. He figured, worst case, the company would be forced to recognize there were problems. Then, even if he got disciplined or fired for speaking up for a union (illegal, but not uncommon) it would be a better workplace for coworkers who stayed.
Within weeks of Hogan’s call, seven of the dealer’s 10 mechanics had signed union cards, and together with Machinists organizer Jon Irvine, they asked Fisher’s service department manager on Jan. 28 to recognize their choice to join a union.
“It’s not that we’re trying to do anything bad to management, it’s just, we want better work conditions,” explains mechanic Isaiah Tsosie, another union supporter.
Why they want a union
Several mechanics told the Labor Press they view the union as a way to improve a workplace that they like for the most part. Union supporters say they want better pay, and a tool allowance.
Mechanics at Jim Fisher are either paid an hourly rate, or a flat rate per repair job based on an estimate of how long the job should take. Hogan gets the flat-rate pay, and would like to see a pay system similar to what’s required in California: Mechanics there are paid a base hourly rate plus a flat rate per repair job.
Hogan says he’s gotten small raises from time to time, but no annual reviews. Raises often came when another employee had quit, and management worried about more workers leaving, Hogan said.
“To get a raise here you pretty much have to go in and threaten to leave,” he said.
Mechanics also buy their own tools, at substantial expense. Hogan estimates he’s spent $20,000 to $30,000 on tools. A California law requires employers to pay twice the minimum wage if they require workers to buy their own tools. Hogan benefited from that law when he started as a mechanic in California. Oregon doesn’t have that law, so younger mechanics in particular can face hardship.
Tsosie, hired at the dealership at $17 an hour, estimates he’s spent at least $40,000 on tools. Tsosie said some former classmates in automotive school get a $2,000 per year tool stipend where they work.
Making matters worse, the shop has been broken into (including a wave of break-ins five weekends in a row) and workers have had to pay to replace their stolen tools.
Mechanics were also frustrated by a recent move to offer a $1 an hour increase, but at the same time reduce vacation pay. Workers say they signed paperwork to accept the changes without fully understanding them.
“I don’t want to have to deal with that ever again, I just want to know what it’s going to be, and when we’re going to change things we’ll negotiate to change things, and that’s that,” Hogan said.
Owners fight union effort
To oppose the union, Jim Fisher hired noted antiunion law firm Fisher Phillips, which is trying a standard antiunion legal maneuver: Dilute union support by telling the NLRB that workers in other departments really ought to get to vote on the union too. Jim Fisher Volvo says in legal filings that five Parts Department workers and three service writers should be included.
But Irvine, the union organizer, said Jim Fisher Volvo didn’t tell those non-mechanic workers about the move to include them in the bargaining unit. So he walked into the parts department and talked with the workers there, explaining why the company wanted to do that. Irvine says he was able to speak with them for about 15 minutes until he was escorted off the property.
Jim Fisher Volvo also hired a union-busting firm as of Feb. 9. Labor Information Services Inc. of Malibu, California, describes itself as a “third party persuading consulting team” on its website. A federal disclosure filed by the union buster shows it was Jim Fisher himself who made the agreement. Starting immediately, the firm dispatched consultant Jesse Rojas to conduct mandatory meetings to persuade workers not to unionize.
But workers, and union organizer Irvine, say the meetings were a flop. Some mechanics showed up to the meetings with gaming devices and ignored the consultant. Others challenged his antiunion messaging, or just listened and came away convinced the union was the right choice. After an initially flurry, workers haven’t heard from the consultant in recent weeks.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has not yet decided whether the non-mechanic workers should vote, and no election date has been announced.
The Labor Press called and emailed Jim Fisher Volvo for comment, but the company had not responded by press time.
If and when the Jim Fisher campaign succeeds, Irvine anticipates interest among mechanics at other dealerships.