No forward momentum in Hickman Chrysler lockout talks

As the lockout at a local vehicle dealership reaches the two-month mark, a union representative says, “We’re not going anywhere.”

Dylan Murphy

Members of the Teamsters Local 855 union stand on the picket line at Hickman Chrysler Jeep in St. John’s. The dealership locked out some of the sales staff in late January after unsuccessful contract renewal talks. Dylan Murphy/Kicker

As the lockout at a St. John’s car dealership reaches week eight, Teamsters Local 855 representatives say they have no intention of giving in to the company’s demands.

On Jan. 22, at the end of the business day, nine members of the sales staff at Hickman Chrysler Jeep at the corner of Peet Street and Kenmount Road in St. John’s were locked out of the building. As of yet, no deal has been made for them to return to work.

Union representative Roger Spracklin says there hasn’t been much movement in talks between the union and the employer. A couple of monetary offers have been extended, but Spracklin says there has been nothing significant enough to make up for the concessions that employees are being asked to accept.

The company is looking to reduce commissions. For some of the salespeople, the company’s proposed reductions would cost them anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of their annual income, depending upon the individual.

“It’s a serious concession that we’re not willing to make,” Spracklin said. “The answer can’t always be ‘Sell more cars.’ That’s not always possible, especially in these times.”

Trying times

Already reeling from the impact of COVID-19, the automobile industry is also trying to cope with a short supply of semiconductors.

The Windsor Assembly Plant in Ontario, which produces a large number of vehicles in the country, just recently re-opened after a three-week shutdown because the supply of those semiconductors was nearly non-existent. For commission-based salespeople such as those locked out at Hickman Chrysler Jeep, vehicle supply (and therefore opportunities for earnings when work resumes) may be impacted for some time.

Despite the challenges, Spracklin says morale is high among the members of the union on the picket line.

“We’re doing good,” Spracklin said. “They’ve got a good shelter and a burn-barrel going. The spirits are high.

“It’s been a long two months, no doubt about it, but that was part of the employer’s move to lock these people out, at this time of year. It’s common knowledge that there’s not a lot of sales in the early first quarter of any year, but I’m sure the employer had hoped that sticking out the winter might bring this to an end. But spring is right around the corner; we’re dug in, and we’re not going anywhere”

Representatives at Hickman Chrysler Jeep did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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