The membership voted 5,705 to 251 to authorize a strike against the 17 companies that deliver most of the new cars to dealerships in the United States. There are 12,000 unionized drivers covered by the contract. The union says industry negotiators want a two-tier wage system and a change in trip rates that could reduce take-home pay for drivers. The union is seeking improved pensions, higher wages, a reduction in "excessive work hours," and improved health care.
"This overwhelming vote sends a strong message that the Teamsters union will not accept the big concessions that management wants in this contract," says C.B. "Doc" Conder, the union's chief negotiator in the talks.
Automakers are preparing alternative plans in case of a strike, but expressed hopes that it will be avoided. The last contract in 1995 was settled after a 32-day strike against Ryder Systems Inc., then the largest car-hauler. Ryder was later bought by Allied Holdings Inc.
The negotiations are the first major ones for new Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, who has promised a more militant union. "People are buying new cars in record numbers," Hoffa said. "The industry is making big money. It's time the owners shared the profits with the people doing the hard work."
"Everyone would have a problem" if there were a prolonged walkout, Ford President Jac Nasser said Monday, reports the Associated Press. So far this year, U.S. sales of new cars and light trucks are up 9%. A strike could put a monkey wrench into what is shaping up to be a record year for car sales.