Sixty union workers at three car dealerships in Nanaimo and Victoria began strike action on Friday.

Technicians, service advisors and parts and details staff who are part of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) Local 456 are striking at three locations: Subaru of Nanaimo, Mercedes-Benz Nanaimo and Three Point Motors – Victoria. All three companies are under the Gain Group. 

IAM Local 456 member Ruan Van der Walt said contract negotiations aren’t going smoothly.

“We’re attempting to get a fair contract put in place and some of the offers on the table have been to restrict the union’s ability to talk to our members. It’s been getting pretty difficult here to come to a conclusion and we’re just hoping to force a meeting out of this and get back to work and make the company money,” Van der Walt said.

Van der Walt said Three Point Motors, a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Victoria, has been under the IAM for thirty years and has a longstanding collective agreement.

John Humphrey, IAM Local 456 business representative, said the previous contract with the three dealerships ended on Aug. 31. According to Humphrey, the dealerships are now asking for numerous changes, including mandatory overtime.

Humphrey said the workers also want fair wages, including wage parity between Nanaimo and Victoria.

“And just being competitive with all the other shops around,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey said the union has reached out to the B.C. Labour Relations Board regarding mediation.

The Gain Group said they have been trying to reach a new collective agreement with the union that represents our parts, service and detail employees since September.

“Our technicians and other employees currently receive some of the highest wages, RRSP’s 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 Gain Group said.

However, Humphrey says all the union members currently on strike are receiving the second-lowest wages on the island.

“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 increased costs to our customers,” the Gain Group said.

Humphrey said those wage increases are actually reflecting workload, for example, a detailer who does more than wash cars moving from around $16 an hour to around $21 an hour.

The Gain Group said the union has used “take it or leave it” tactics in negotiations, and “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.”

Humphrey said the union has tried to give dates for bargaining but Gain has said they are not available.

The company has filed a bad faith complaint against the union. The union filed a bargaining and bad faith complaint prior to Gain’s complaint, citing the company was denying Humphrey access to union members.

Gain Group also said it has asked the Labour board to appoint a mediator and the union has refused to respond.

“We are most concerned about employees and are doing everything we can to minimize the impact. However, we do not understand the logic of the union today,” Gain Group said in a statement.

But Humphrey disagrees with that statement, saying the Christmas party was cancelled, and there have been other allegations of bullying and harassment.