The decision by General Motors Corp. to lay off 209 production-line employees at its plant in East Baltimore shows that even workers making the once-popular minivans won't be spared the effects of the recession.
Starting Monday, the workers will be on a "long-term" layoff that could last 36 weeks, according to Terry Youngerman, personnel director at the Broening Highway plant. The layoffs, he said yesterday, are intended to cut production of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans due to "lack of sales."
The plant has already cut production by shutting down for two weeks this month. It is scheduled to reopen Monday.
Youngerman declined to say by how much the company wants to cut its output, which is normally 375 mini-vans during each of its two shifts.
Youngerman said yesterday that he hoped that sales volume would increase enough to end the layoffs sooner than planned. The current contract between GM and the United Auto Workers Union limits a long-term layoff to 36 weeks.
The sales decline in minivans is not limited to GM models, he said, but "how much longer it will last, I don't know."
"Now, with the exception of a few specific models . . . most [manufacturers] are starting to feel the pinch," Youngerman said.
Sales of light-duty trucks -- pick-up trucks, minivans and four-wheel-drive vehicles -- decreased 3.9 percent in 1990 from 1989, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit. Although Safari sales were up 6.8 percent in 1990, Astro sales decreased 15.8 percent, the center said.
Vehicle sales continued to fall in early January, with sales of light trucks dropping 33 percent, U.S. automakers reported.
The Baltimore layoffs will be based strictly on seniority, Youngerman said. Workers are to be notified by phone or mail.
Another 100 of the plant's approximately 3,250 employees are to be taken off the line but not be laid off. Instead, they will be transferred to a jobs program, said Rodney Trump, president of UAW Local 239. The program is part of an agreement between the union and the company to provide work that is "other than traditional" line production.
"We would use the opportunity to increase human development," Trump said.
Employees in the jobs program will receive their regular pay and benefits, Trump said.
Trump said that the 209 workers laid off might not go back on the line even when recalled. He said the layoffs are the "result of a line-speed reduction and efficiency move, simultaneously." Most likely, workers would enter the jobs program when they return, he said.
Laid-off employees will get a sizable amount of their existing pay because of $4.2 billion in income guarantees in the national contract between GM and UAW that was ratified last September.
Workers are entitled to supplemental unemployment benefits from the company and the union in addition to their unemployment pay, according to Trump. He declined to reveal what percentage of a worker's pay is received during a layoff.
Youngerman said laid-off employees get "somewhere in the neighborhood of about 85 percent of their base pay."
Trump warned that the guaranteed pay for laid-off workers might not last the full 36 weeks if cutbacks at other plants deplete the fund.
"Say, over these 36 weeks, plant after plant had layoffs or down weeks," he said. "As soon as that money is spent, then the 36 doesn't apply because you've blown the money. It sounds like a lot until you realize how many people we have at GM-UAW."