Mechanics strike enters month No. 2 after union rejects offer

A mechanics strike against several car dealerships in the Miller Hill Mall area has moved into its second month after the union rejected the dealers' revised final offer.

Earlier this summer: Striking mechanics
Striking mechanics are shown earlier this summer in front of Kolar Chevrolet in Hermantown. The strike ended Tuesday and most mechanics will return to work today. (Clint Austin /

A mechanics strike against several car dealerships in the Miller Hill Mall area has moved into its second month after the union rejected the dealers' revised final offer.

That came as a surprise to the Duluth Automobile Dealers Association after the July 13 session with a federal mediator.

"I didn't think we were far apart at all," said Steve Burton, the association's labor attorney.

So the strike, and picketing at all six dealerships, continues while the union waits for another negotiation session to be scheduled, said Del Soiney, president of United Auto Workers Local 241.

But, said Burton, "How many final offers can you make?"


The strike began on June 15 with 17 mechanics and parts employees walking out at Kolar Toyota/Scion and Kolar Hyundai in Hermantown. Ten days later, 14 union members walked out of Krenzen Auto Mall and Krenzen Honda in Duluth. On July 6, the remaining 30 members of the United Auto Workers Local 241 covered by the contract walked out of Duluth Dodge and Kolar Chevrolet, both in Hermantown.

All sites are being picketed Monday through Saturday.

The strike has left the dealerships without the certified staff to do servicing beyond oil changes, tire rotations and other basic maintenance, Soiney said.

"I'm sure they're feeling the pinch," he said. "A lot of people won't go into the lot because those signs are out front. This is a strong union town. A lot of people won't cross the picket line."

Without a full service staff, the dealers have been affected, Burton admitted, but they're continuing to sell new cars and continuing to provide some level of repair service.

The four-year union contract with the Duluth Automobile Dealers Association expired April 30.

Wages aren't the issue in the new four-year contract. The dealers have offered a 2.8 percent increase the first year and 2.3 percent increases in years two, three and four, according to Soiney. And management has offered to increase its contribution to the employees' pension fund, Burton said.

One sticking point is who pays for increases in employees' health care premiums. Management wants employees to pay for the increases during the first two years, which the union opposes. The dealers are willing to share the costs, 50-50, the last two years.


But an even bigger issue is the dealers' proposed changes to contract language regarding the times technicians have to do repairs, veering away from an independent manual used for years, Soiney said.

The proposed changes are similar to what is done at Twin Cites dealerships and allows dealers to be more competitive to get the work, Burton said.

"There is no discussion about telling them to hurry up and get it done quicker," he said.

But employees say it will result in decreased time for repairs which raises shop safety concerns.

In the last session with a mediator, management offered compromise language.

"They gave it a shot," Soiney acknowledged, "They had some language change, but it was so vague you could read anything into it."

While he hopes the contract will get settled soon, Soiney said they're in it for the long haul.

"Even with strike pay, it's hurting us, no doubt about it," he said. "But membership feels it's a desperate measure to take people out on strike. Just throwing us a bone won't get us back to work."

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