The General Motors Corp. plant on Broening Highway may be forced to close temporarily -- idling more than 3,000 employees -- if striking rail workers across the nation do not return to work by the weekend, Terry Youngerman, plant personnel director, said yesterday.
The East Baltimore minivan plant -- which makes about 800 vans a day -- gets its radiators, transmissions, fenders and other sheet metal parts by rail. Broening Highway workers have already been furloughed several times since mid-December because of slow sales in the domestic auto industry.
But Rodney Trump, president of United Auto Workers Baltimore, said he supported the rail strike even though it could mean layoffs for auto workers.
"Regardless of the effect on industry, the collective bargaining system deserves the chance to work," Mr. Trump said.
Carmakers, which rely on rail transport to bring in parts and ship out assembled autos, warned of plant shutdowns nationwide and layoffs within two or three days.
Other local industries dependent on the rail system, particularly steamship lines, are being forced to devise new ways to ship their products.
Yesterday morning, Maersk Lines, the largest steamship company that calls at Baltimore, diverted 20 loads of cargo headed by rail to New York from the West Coast.
Instead of risking a strike before the cargo reached its destination, Maersk sent the cargo to Chicago. The line then used trucks to haul the refrigerated cargo to New York, where it will be loaded on ships bound for Europe.
"It's not a major factor right now, but obviously after a while things aren't going to move," Jim Keifer, Maersk's Baltimore terminal manager, said.
"I hope Congress will get into the act very quickly because trucking power is going to be very scarce. It is a major inconvenience, and the cost can be prohibitive," he said.
Ryland Group Inc., the Columbia-based homebuilder, said that it gets its lumber by rail and that its suppliers are looking for other alternatives to send shipments. "Getting lumber is our immediate concern right now," said Lisa Calvo, Ryland spokeswoman.