Fresh off pension and wage improvements won from the LTL industry, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is preparing for similar contract negotiations with automobile transporters.

Contract talks between the approximately 12,500 Teamsters and 17 automobile carriers covered by the National Master Automobile Transporters Agreement (NMATA) were scheduled to start today in Detroit.

The Teamsters said they plan to focus on several areas: pension and wage increases, no cost sharing for healthcare expenses, and preventing business from being transferred to Mexican carriers.

"We recognize the concerns of the employers, and we will address them as best we can. But we have one goal: no givebacks," said Teamster president James Hoffa last month.

Hoffa said that unionized auto transporters have fared badly in recent years, while non-union carriers have prospered.

Decatur, GA-based Allied Holdings, for example, lost $7.5 million on revenues of $898.1 million in 2002 after losing $39.5 million on revenues of $896.7 million in 2001. Meanwhile, non-union truckload carriers such as Phoenix-based Swift Transportation have increased their share of the automobile hauling business in recent years.

"We must protect our current work and move forward to organize the non-union carriers who are costing our members jobs," he said. "We will restore union density in the carhaul industry."