The locked-out sales staff at the Hickman Chrysler Jeep dealership in St. John’s wish they could resume selling vehicles, but little headway has been made in the four-week labor dispute.
Nine employees were impacted by the employer’s decision to lock staff out. According to Roger Spracklin, business agent for Teamsters Local 855, the main issue standing in the way of a new collective agreement is the future of commissions on wholesale deals. He said the company is looking for concessions that would “either fully take away or seriously reduce” what staff can earn from these transactions.
“They’re commission-based,” he said of the staff. “If they don’t sell, they don’t make any money. There’s a small guarantee, a minimum they’ll get paid every month, but it’s sort of a false safety net because if you find yourself availing of that for too many months, you’ll be let go because you’re clearly not selling anything.”
%The concessions the employer is looking for could impact annual employee income by 15 to 20%, Spracklin said. Of the nine employees locked out, seven currently earn commissions on wholesale deals. Two others were hired after it was agreed new hires would not receive these commissions.
Spracklin said these demands are particularly concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the availability of products to sell has slowed down due to global market pressures. Spracklin cited a global shortage of computer chips as a significant problem for the auto industry.
“If there ends up being very little product to sell, these folks can’t make any money anyway, because if there’s nothing to sell, there’s no commission to be made. Then on top of that, they’re going to have to lose their wholesale?
“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re very, very disappointed with this situation. It’s still in the middle of a pandemic, and if anyone has listened to the news this week, all hell has broken loose now.”
Spracklin suspects the timing of the lockout works to the employer’s advantage, noting this time of year tends to be slow for vehicle sales.
The lockout started following the end of the workday on Friday, Jan. 22. Spracklin said the company did reach out this past week to set up a meeting, but talks between the two sides and a conciliator failed to make any progress.
The workers’ last contract expired in the fall of 2019. According to Spracklin, that contract was rolled over for one year, and staff initially expected that would happen again last fall.
“We were going to roll it over again (in 2020) because again, the economy and everything has not really gotten any better, but the employer served notice to negotiate, which ultimately forced us to the table,” he said.
Hickman Chrysler Jeep is part of Hickman Automotive Group, a company with more than a dozen vehicle and motorcycle dealerships spread throughout eastern and central Newfoundland. A spokeswoman for Hickman Automotive Group told The Telegram the company is not commenting publicly on the lockout.