Teamsters, car-haulers go down to the wire in contract talks as trucker strike looms

Union optimistic on new compact as nationwide walkout looms

Car-hauling companies and the Teamsters union went down to the wire Tuesday to reach a collective bargaining agreement and avert a nationwide strike that could start as soon as a minute after midnight on Wednesday.

In a Facebook post late Monday night, lead negotiators of the Teamsters’ Carhaul division, meeting in Romulus, Michigan, appeared optimistic that a contract could be agreed to by midnight Tuesday.

“It’s going to be a good contract,” said Avril Thompson, Carhaul division director and co-chair of the Teamsters National Automobile Transporters Industry Negotiating Committee (TNATINC).

The weekend before last, about 3,000 drivers and maintenance workers in the U.S. and Canada covered by the National Master Automobile Transporters Agreement (NMATA) voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike should a contract agreement not be reached before Wednesday.

A one-year extension to the original 2016 contract expires at midnight Tuesday. Union officials have repeatedly said it will not be extended. The NMATA dates to the 1940s.

The extension came about after the division concluded in spring 2021 that the pandemic’s impact on the economy made effective bargaining difficult.

Employers have agreed to language in the new contract that would make it extremely difficult to subcontract union work, a step that Thompson called “huge.” The current proposal contains more than two dozen changes that will benefit workers, negotiators said in the post.

Should union officials agree to a new contract, both sides are likely to extend the one-year agreement to allow time for information to be distributed and for the rank and file to vote, said Ken Paff, national organizer of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), a Teamster dissident group. If the negotiating committee rejects the proposal, a strike would occur, Paff said.

The national contract covers workers at Kansas City, Missouri-based Jack Cooper Transport, Edwardsville, Illinois-based Cassens Transport and five smaller carriers. Jack Cooper filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2019 but emerged less than three months later.

Car haulers have long been considered among the most skilled of over-the-road truck drivers. They haul extremely high-value cargoes that are prone to damage, and face delivery challenges that go well beyond the traditional dock-bumping in which drivers engage. Spatial skills are required for organizing cars and trucks on the haulers and the training takes months, according to non-union car hauler United Road in Plymouth, Michigan.

In recent years, however, union carriers have been undercut on price by lower-cost, non-union rivals. Truckers also face stiff competition from the nation’s railroads. In the U.S., the rail industry transports about three-quarters of all new cars and trucks, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

A nationwide walkout of auto transport workers is the last thing that U.S. automakers need after dealing with two years of supply chain shortages that have curbed production and, by extension, sales.

About 15.2 million light vehicles will be produced in North America in 2022, according to projections from S&P Global. That is 12.7% above the estimated 12.9 million in 2021. Production is expected to reach about 17.2 million units in 2023, according to the forecasts. The data includes production in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

(Note: An earlier version erroneously stated that there were 6,000 members in the car-hauling division).

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Cassens Transport (No. 81).