A contract negotiated by Teamster leaders covering 20,000 car haulers around the country was rejected overwhelmingly in rank-and-file voting that concluded Wednesday.
Just over 72% of the car haulers who cast ballots voted against the contract--9,220 Teamsters voted no and 3,535 voted yes. The pact had been heavily opposed by the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a Detroit-based dissident group that contends it was overly favorable to the employers.
The Teamster constitution provides that a contract negotiated by union officials goes into effect unless at least two-thirds of the voting members reject it. This is a highly unusual and controversial provision, and several union leaders have advocated abolishing it.
First Major Challenge
The rejection presents the first major internal challenge for new Teamsters President William J. McCarthy, who was chosen 12 days ago to succeed the late Jackie Presser. And it comes at a time when McCarthy must mount a defense against an unprecedented Justice Department lawsuit that seeks to take over the Teamsters on grounds that the union is dominated by organized crime.
TDU sent McCarthy a telegram calling on him to appoint a new negotiating committee, asserting that the union officials who bargained the contract were out of touch with the drivers' needs.
"More than tinkering is required to mend the breakdown in communications between car haulers and the officers who negotiate our contracts," the telegram said.
"The size of its vote and its uniformity across the country indicates a wide range of problems with the present agreement and the proposed offer," said Steve Kindred, a TDU organizer in New York. He said members were disenchanted with grievance procedures, working conditions, a cost-of-living clause and difficulties in getting employers to swiftly repair damaged trucks.
Second Pact Turned Down
Wednesday's announcement marked the second major contract that a majority of Teamster members have voted against in the last few months, a sign of discontent among the membership with union leaders, according to Ken Paff, organizing director of the TDU. "The membership has no faith in the top bargainers," Paff said.
The top Teamster negotiator in the contract talks was Walter Shea, McCarthy's recently appointed chief aide.
McCarthy issued a statement Wednesday saying: "No strike action has been authorized at this time. It is anticipated that another meeting with the employers will be held in the near future to discuss contract terms." A union spokesman said McCarthy would convene a meeting of the negotiating committee Monday in Washington.
Cites Earlier Rejection
"Naturally, the industry is disappointed," said Richard Kelly, a spokesman for the National Automobile Transporters labor division in Detroit. "This is the second time in a row it's happened," he said, referring to the fact that in 1985 the car haulers also rejected a contract negotiated by Shea. A 23-day strike ensued and the union negotiated a new, more favorable contract that the haulers accepted.
Kelly said the 39 companies represented by the association would wait to see what action came out of the Teamsters meeting Monday before acting further.
Kelly said he thought the impact of a short strike would not be significant because most dealers maintain inventories that last from two to four weeks. He also noted that about 55% of new cars are now transported by rail, with the other 45% hauled by truck. Still, Kindred noted that at some point all but 5% of new cars are transported by truck because the cars that initially are placed on trains are picked at railheads for trips to dealers.