The Auto Technician’s Union

AutoMech9The Flat Rate System – Boom or Bust?

The Machinists Union has represented auto mechanics since the formation of the first automotive Local Lodge in 1912 in New York City. Here in BC, we have represented automotive service and repair workers for over 75 years.

Because of the Flat Rate/Piecework system used by auto shops, auto Mechanics often have no idea what their pay will be at the end of the week. When times are good, and the service shop is full, Techs can make good money; but when the shop slows down the Tech can be left sitting at their bench, unpaid.

Working conditions and pay is significantly better at Union shops and, from hard struggle throughout the 20th century, IAMAW Auto Mechanics are now paid by the hour in BC, like virtually every other employee in Canada, with an added bonus for productivity.

Where employer resistance has made replacing the Flat Rate System difficult, Machinists Union Collective Agreements guarantee minimum paid hours and ensure fair distribution of the good paying jobs.

Some employers have bonus systems in place but all Machinists Union mechanics are guaranteed a set wage per week, usually equal to 36 hours pay. This allows our Members to undertake major financial commitments, like house purchases, without fear of default. Union Membership allows Auto Technicians in BC to have a say in their workplace and to influence the shape of their working and personal lives.

Below is a link to the IAMAW Main site (U.S.) with info for Auto Techs; much of this information is relevant on both sides of the border:

AutoTech Website

How did Auto Technicians end up with the Flat Rate System?

After World War Two, the economy boomed and the Flat Rate system became dominant. Flat Rate is a piece work system where worker’s time is not compensated, only his billable hours. As workers had little control over the accounting procedures that determined their pay, the system was open to abuse by employers.

Automotive service enterprises prefer the Flat Rate system because it maximizes profits while passing on losses to the Auto Mechanic. The system encourages unnecessary work to be performed , rushed and incomplete repairs and manipulation of “book times” to the detriment of both the customer and the mechanic.

It is a food chain where the auto manufacturers squeeze the dealers and the dealers squeeze the mechanic. The customer ends up paying – both in the quality of a job done or in the price billed.

“Book Times” can be manipulated by the Company. The Flat Rate Mechanic can be forced to work with little or no compensation. Car makers are infamous for reducing book times when a recall is required, often by half or more. The Flat Rate mechanic often must bear the cost for defective design or inferior quality in new vehicles.

When an Auto Mechanic is paid only based on billable hours, any inefficiency or problems with workplace organization will directly impact on their earnings. The employer has less incentive to address any shortcomings as the employer can load up the shop with extra Mechanics, knowing that it only pays Techs when the shop is busy, and profits will be maximized.

The image of automotive mechanics changed as they became ‘automotive technicians’

The increasing sophistication and complexity of modern autos has made the Automotive Technician one of the most technically demanding trades. Not only do modern mechanics have to diagnose sensor and computer glitches but the manufacturers continually introduce new technology which has to be learned and mastered on the fly. Originally manufacturers thought computerization would reduce the need for skill as black boxes outputted problems to computer printouts. The reality has been the opposite.

Auto repair has become more demanding and requires greater skill across a host of new disciplines such as computer trouble shooting, variable valve timing and fuel injection.

The Machinists Union fights to ensure that all Technicians are paid for all hours worked, not solely upon the Flat Rates provided by their employer. Union Membership allows IAMAW Auto Technicians in BC to have a say in their workplace and to influence the shape of their working and personal lives. Join us.