Teamsters Strike Largest Car Hauler, Automakers Shuffle Shipments
DETROIT (AP) _ About 5,000 Teamsters went on strike Thursday at the nation’s largest car-hauling company, forcing automakers to find new ways to get vehicles to dealers.
The drivers’ walkout shut down the movement of new cars and trucks by Ryder System Inc.
Ryder, which delivers vehicles from factories, ports and distribution centers to dealerships, is the major transporter for General Motors Corp. and hauls vehicles for the other automakers.
It handled about 6 million new cars and trucks last year in the United States, more than one-third of the total produced or imported. Ryder System also rents moving trucks to the public, and said its consumer operations were not affected by the walkout.
Automakers said their immediate problems will be minimal _ cars and trucks that can’t be shipped will be stored at plants or distribution points. Some will be moved by haulers unaffected by the strike or shipped by rail, which is already used extensively.
But if the strike continues, the automakers will run out of storage room, and dealers may face shortages as the crucial fall-selling season and the new model year get under way.
Picket lines went up at Ryder outlets around the country and some auto plants.
``We’re going to stick it out as long as necessary, but we hope it is very short,″ union steward Terry Hewer said as he watched empty trucks roll into a Ryder yard in Dearborn.
In Miami, at a rail yard blocks from Ryder headquarters, striker Jose Gonzalez said he wasn’t sure how long his savings would hold out.
``My wife’s already worried,″ he said. ``She’s asking me `Where’s the mortgage?‴
The old contract between the Teamsters and the National Automobile Transporters Labor Division, which represents Ryder and other hauling companies, expired May 21. The last talks broke off Sept. 1, and no new ones were scheduled.
The union said hauling companies have refused to provide the business information it needs to evaluate their proposals, which include a two-tier wage system that would pay new drivers less than those with seniority.
The companies say they supplied the information in January.
Of 12,000 Teamsters covered under the contract, 5,000 work for Ryder. The union hopes that by striking Ryder, the most powerful of the car haulers, it can achieve a settlement more quickly, without hurting the smaller companies.
Officials at GM, Ford and Chrysler would not say what percentage of their vehicles are handled by Ryder. Most of the auto companies use many haulers.
``We think we can run OK for the foreseeable future,″ said G. Richard Wagoner, president of North American operations for GM. The problems would get worse after a week or two, he said.
Ryder said it filed an unfair labor practices complaint asking the National Labor Relations Board to order the union back to the bargaining table and drivers back behind the wheel.
Union membership in the car-hauling industry has declined from about 16,000 people in 1985 to 12,000 today.