After company negotiators submitted a new economic offer, talks between the Teamsters and companies hauling new cars continued early today despite a 12:01 a.m. strike deadline.
Teamsters spokesman Chip Roth said the union was reviewing the offer, but gave no further details. A union source described the new offers as "comprehensive" and said that it likely would take some time to fully evaluate it. No details of the offer were provided.
It was not immediately known whether contract negotiators would talk through the night, or recess and resume later today.
A source close to the companies' negotiating team said the talks likely would stretch into today. "There's been enough progress . . . to pick up again tomorrow," said the source, who spoke on condition of not being identified further.
A strike by the drivers, who haul cars from factories to showrooms, could mean longer waits for popular cars, union officials have said. Automakers also have worried that if a strike persisted beyond several days they would not have space to keep vehicles as they come off the assembly lines.
The negotiations represented the first major challenge at the bargaining table for the Teamsters' new president, James P. Hoffa, son of the legendary Teamsters boss.
Earlier on Monday, as the talks continued through the Memorial Day holiday, negotiations at times were described as stalled over management proposals that would establish a lower pay scale for newly hired drivers and permit hiring of part-time workers, spokesmen for both sides said.
But toward evening, progress was reported as both sides met much of the time in separate meetings, sending informal proposals back and forth. Then about an hour before midnight, the companies submitted their fresh economic offer.
The contract covers about 12,800 drivers, mechanics, yard and office workers.
The haulers have demanded more flexible work schedules while the Teamsters sought boosts in wages and benefits and retirement pay for employees retiring after 25 years. During the evening, the companies abandoned a proposal to use Mexican drivers and trucks to haul cars across the border, a move described as a significant victory by union officials. Company negotiators have said they had never intended to use Mexican drivers.
Both sides agreed that Hoffa has been a factor in the discussions. Hoffa was elected last December in the aftermath of a campaign finance scandal, and personally led the union negotiating team. "This is a very important set of talks for Hoffa," said Roth, the union spokesman. "He'll be judged on his ability to deliver for the members. He knows the members will be watching him."
Union haulers currently earn $68,000 a year in wages and benefits, with salaries at $55,000. The Teamsters said that management wants to pay newly hired drivers 30 percent less than the contract wage, with gradual increases eventually equalizing the pay.