Car manufacturers and auto haulers are waiting to see if the Teamsters union will follow through on its threats to strike 17 trucking companies if contract talks are not successful by midnight tonight.
Negotiations began in February and are the first for new Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. It's the only national trucking contract Hoffa will negotiate during his three-year term, which officially began May 1.
Some people believe Hoffa is itching for a successful strike as he follows in his father's footsteps at the head of a more militant union. Labor relations experts say the pressure is on Hoffa to take a tough negotiating stance.
In addition, Teamsters car haulers have a history of walkouts. In 1995, the Teamsters struck Ryder System for more than a month. A walkout of the more than 12,000 drivers, mechanics and other workers could damage booming auto sales. Unionized companies deliver 90% of new vehicles from the regional depots and railheads directly to dealers.
On the other hand, some industry observers doubt the Teamsters would call a strike at this time. The summer months are when car companies schedule extensive downtime for model changeover, so there's not as much pressure to move new vehicles out of the plants. And strikes can drag out and get nasty, depleting the strike fund of a union already dogged by financial problems.
Negotiators were expected to keep meeting over the weekend, and Hoffa has indicated he intends to participate.
The union feels that employers are unfairly demanding pay cuts and other concessions, despite record profits as a strong U.S. economy continues to fuel car sales.
"Management is demanding that these hard-working men and women receive less for doing one of the most difficult jobs in the transportation industry," said Hoffa. "As profits continue to soar, the rank-and-file workers are viewed as a mere commodity by the big-dollar bosses."