Mechanics and service writers at BMW of Mountain View went on strike this week, saying their reputation for doing high-quality work at "the last honest BMW dealer in the Bay Area" was on the line.
Dozens of workers picketed the dealership at El Camino Real and Grant Road on Monday, carrying signs discouraging customers from shopping there. Drivers passed by honking their horns in support.
The dealership's new corporate owner, Florida-based Auto Nation, wants mechanics and service writers to be paid on commission instead of their current salaries. As a result, "My paycheck is going to depend on what I sell," said service writer Rudy Gomez. "That's what gives dealers a bad reputation."
The company also wants employees to foot higher bills for dental, vision and health care, "a complete gutting of what we have now," said employee Rolf Kuchlenz.
"Most of us have families," Gomez said. "We can't come up with that out of our own pockets."
With the worker's AFL-CIO union contract due to expire May 31, negotiations broke down several weeks ago. The employees began picketing Monday.
Though workers said they were negotiating directly with local officials, dealership manager Brian Nelson said he couldn't comment on the issue, and directed all questions to Auto Nation in Florida. Representatives there were not immediately available for comment.
Workers say that, under the proposed business practices, service writers could be rewarded for selling customers on unnecessary work, while mechanics could be rewarded for rushing a job.
"They would pay us for how fast we do it," one worker said. "That's not a very good way to get your car fixed."
Workers on the picket line said the dealership has the best reputation for BMW service in Silicon Valley, often serving customers referred to them by other dealers. With 45 mechanics, the dealership is one of the busiest.
Auto Nation, a Fortune 500 company started by the founder of Blockbuster Video, purchased the company while it was still known as Allison BMW and the only unionized BMW dealer in the Bay Area. Since then, the company tripled the number of mechanics and added work space for them in a new, multi-story building. A Mini dealer opened up next door as well, which also has workers on strike (Mini is a product of BMW).
A longtime mechanic named Larry who ran the Mini service garage during the expansion said he believes the new owners are not showing gratitude for their hard work.
"We built all this for them," Larry said. "Instead of rewarding us, they punish us."
Employee Mike Romano said the cards were stacked against them, calling the standoff "worse than David and Goliath."
"They've got 300 dealers, and we are just 66 people," he said.