CARS PILE UP AS STRIKE AGAINST RYDER CONTINUES

CARS PILE UP AS STRIKE AGAINST RYDER CONTINUES

Railyards and auto plant properties were filling with new cars as the eighth day of a strike against Ryder Automotive Operations Inc. put the brake on delivery of 25,000 vehicles a day to dealers nationwide.

No new talks were scheduled with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as efforts to end a walkout by some 5,000 members remained stalled Thursday.A ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that many hoped would end the strike won't happen until next week, according to the regional director in charge of the case. That will put more pressure on railroads and automakers to find off-site storage.

"I'm doing fine as manager of the world's largest parking lot," said George P. Turner Sr., vice president of the automotive service group of Consolidated Rail Corp. He said three Conrail yards in the Newark, N.J.; Albany, N.Y., and Boston areas already were overflowing with 14,000 vehicles.

"We're shoehorning them in," he said. "Our goal is to keep the plants fluid. To the extent that off-site locations are available, they ship them, we'll park them."

"We're working with partners to identify space we might need if the strike persists," said Matt Baratz, manager of vehicle marketing for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. "As far as how long it is to implement contingency plans, it varies by manufacturer and processor."

Port officials said they still have space as of Thursday, although some expect to fill their normal auto yards soon.

Automakers say they have yet to curtail production. They are giving dealers the option of picking up vehicles themselves, but they admit that is only a limited solution.

"It certainly isn't something you can do indefinitely," said Nicole Solomon, spokesperson for Chrysler Corp. "We certainly are hoping this is resolved in the next few days because we don't want to be in position where production is jeopardized."

Ms. Solomon said that most dealers have adequate inventory. One dealer, Boniface Hiers Chrysler Dodge of Merritt Island, Fla., sent staff 150 miles to Ryder's Jacksonville facility Wednesday to pick up nine cars. The Teamsters said a picket was hit by one of those cars, treated and released from a hospital. Mike Furru, sales manager for the dealership, said he doesn't anticipate making the trip to Jacksonville again.

"We'll probably go buy used cars and try to sell used cars," he said.

The Teamsters are leafleting outside dealers who pick up cars. The leaflets don't mention the strike but advise consumers how to find out dealer costs and negotiate for a lower price.

Ms. Solomon said some dealers are reluctant to pick up vehicles, even when they are close to plants or railyards.

"Most of the dealers are very sensitive to not offend the Teamsters or other unions," she said. "I don't think you'll see large number of dealers taking that type of action."

General Motors Corp., Ryder's largest customer, is offering its dealers $100 for every car they pick up themselves. The company had no figures on how many dealers were participating.

Ford Motor Co. said that it uses Ryder less than its domestic competitors, so it's in good shape, except for its popular Ranger pickup, which is made at two plants served only by Ryder, with no rail access. Bill Carroll, spokesman for Ford, said Ford is not looking for other car haulers to serve the plants in Edison, N.J., and St. Paul, Minn., but that production of 325 trucks a day at the plants will continue. He could not speculate if Ranger sales would be hurt.

"We feel if they want the vehicle, hopefully they'll stick with us," said Mr. Carroll. "We continue to make sales and hope the strike will end soon."

Ryder Automotive Operations Inc. of Troy, Mich., the nation's largest car hauler, said it is losing more than $1 million a day due to the strike. Last week it petitioned the NLRB to seek an injunction against the Teamsters, arguing the union is illegally seeking to capture work now performed by another Ryder car hauler, QAT Inc., not covered by the industrywide pact.

The union is arguing it is only seeking work preservation provisions. That dispute is taking longer than normal to sort out, said Louis D'Amico, the board's regional director in Baltimore.

"It's a priority case, but it's looking at contract clauses and contract negotiations, and we have to separate the wheat from the chaff," said Mr. D'Amico. He couldn't promise a decision today "Next week is more likely," he said.

Both the Teamsters and the National Automobile Transporters Labor Division say they are eager and willing to resume talks, but no meetings have been held or scheduled since Sept. 1. The NATLD represents Ryder and 16 other car haulers and support companies who handle 92 percent of dealer deliveries nationwide.

Ryder spokesman Steven Nichols said despite the company's NLRB action and a lawsuit it filed Wednesday, it still hopes negotiations can resume.

"Our position is we'd rather negotiate than litigate," he said.