Crain's Detroit Business
DETROIT - In a move that could disrupt the U.S. auto industry, Teamsters General President James Hoffa is warning he may take union car haulers on strike if they cannot win a good contract by May 31.
'It's time to tell employers the Teamsters are back,' Hoffa said. 'We don't want a repeat of 1995. Nobody wants a strike. But if we have to strike, we're going to. If we don't get what we want, we're going to shut this industry down.'
Teamsters are pushing for increased paid time off, better pensions, improved work and safety rules, better health care and improved job security.
Hoffa, who turns 58 in May, is the son of legendary Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. He knows the first contract of his term will set the tone for his administration, creating comparisons between the skills of Hoffa, the son, and the legacy of Hoffa, the father.
'At the proper time, I'll be at the negotiating table myself,' Hoffa said. 'This is my first contract, and if you don't think I'm going to do a great job, you're crazy.'
His hometown reputation also will be on the line, since Detroit's Teamsters Local 299, his father's former local, has 1,300 car haulers, the largest number of any local in the country. He returned to that local for his first national rally as president last week.
17 FIRMS, 1 CONTRACT
The 12,000 car haulers represented by the Teamsters work for about 17 car-hauling companies but operate under a single national contract. Negotiations between the two sides began in February. The contract, the only national contract being negotiated by the Teamsters this year, will expire May 31. Teamsters represent 95 percent of the car haulers. The others are independent.
Consolidations have given the Teamsters a single major target. Decatur, Ga.-based Allied Holdings Inc. became the nation's largest car hauler when it bought Ryder Automotive Carrier Group Inc., the nation's former No. 1 car hauler, nearly two years ago.
The merged company, with sales of more than $1.1 billion, went public last year, and today controls 65 percent of the market.
Steve Wright, Allied's director of communications, said he could not comment on Hoffa's remarks, but said, 'We are negotiating in good faith.'
A strike would have major consequences for car dealers.
'It would be devastating,' said Mark Snethkamp, president of the Detroit Automobile Dealers Asso-ciation and president of Snethkamp Automotive Group in Highland Park, Mich. 'They've got a big amount of leverage because all car sales have been so high recently.'
In 1995, the Teamsters struck Ryder.
Desperate to get cars out during the strike, GM tried offering dealers $100 for each car they could pick up themselves from distribution centers.
Teamsters called it a 'strike bounty,' and tailed cars back to the dealerships, where they handed out leaflets urging customers to call a Consumer Reports new-car service to determine how much the dealers paid for the car.
ON THE TABLE
Among the issues on the table:
The car-hauling companies want to be able to operate on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis, a schedule barred in some areas by the contract, Wright said. The Teamsters say drivers need more paid time off because they already are working record hours and spend far too little time at home with their families because of hauls that have them criss-crossing the nation.
The Teamsters want to prohibit two-tier wage systems, in which new employees have lesser wage and benefit packages than longer-term employees. Wright said employers merely want to be able to hire more people at entry-level wages.
The Teamsters are pushing for improved health benefits, stronger safety and work rules, more job security and better pensions.
The Teamsters want car-hauling companies to agree to use Teamsters in any subsidiaries or affiliated companies they establish in Mexico.
For example, Allied Holdings last month announced its Axis Group Inc. subsidiary was establishing a Mexico-based subsidiary to handle logistics services for its auto industry clients. If haulers want to expand south of the border, Hoffa said, 'it'll be done with Teamsters or it won't be done at all.'
While Allied Holdings is the nation's largest car hauler, other big players include the Leaseway Transportation Group, a unit of Penske Truck Leasing, which is owned partially by Detroit-based Penske Corp.
Allied's Wright said his company has a 4 percent turnover rate among its Teamster drivers, while other transport companies have much higher turnover rates, indicating drivers are happy with their jobs.
Hoffa said he will work nonstop to get Teamster car haulers the best contract ever.
'I've been going into the office at 8 in the morning and going home at 10 at night, so the cleaning lady asked 'When are you going home?' ' Hoffa said. 'I told her, 'Not till the job is done.' '