GM workers set to strike at minivan plant

June 22, 1991|By Ted Shelsby .....

About 3,200 workers at the General Motors Corp. plant in Southeast Baltimore are set to go on strike Monday morning over what union officials say are unsafe work conditions at the minivan assembly plant.

Rodney Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers Union, which represents the hourly workers at the plant, said yesterday that a 10 a.m. deadline is set for workers to walk off the job.

The primary issue in the local dispute, according to Mr. Trump, is a work force reduction that the company implemented in February, when it curbed the number of minivans rolling off the assembly line to 42 units per hour from 47.

As part of the cutback, he said, the Broening Highway plant eliminated about 400 jobs, about 200 from each of the daily work shifts. That was too many, the union argues, and it has resulted in a rash of injuries to those still on the job as they try to take up the slack.

"Hospital visits are at a record number," Mr. Trump said. "Injuries are at a record number."

He claimed that the number of injuries since the changes were made "is in the hundreds, close to 300." He added that "this is probably 10 times the normal injury rate."

He said that workers have experienced a wide variety of injuries, including cuts, wrist injuries tied to repetitive motions, and back injuries from falls.

"They pulled out more manpower than they need to do the job," Mr. Trump said. The injuries are "a direct result of people being overworked."

He added: "I've not seen anything like this since the late 1960s. It breaks my heart to see what going on."

Vacations are another issue. According to Mr. Trump, the plant is rejecting the summer vacations plans of some low-seniority employees because it says to approve them would leave the plant short of enough workers to produce the minivans.

Terry Youngerman, a spokesman for the GM plant, would say only that the company is in negotiations with the union on a number of difficult issues. He declined to discuss the negotiations.

Mr. Youngerman said that the company was "not trying to hide anything" but felt the dispute was a private matter between the union and the company and should not be negotiated in the media.

He characterized the plant's relationship with the union as "good and stable," noting that there has not been a strike in Baltimore since 1970. To his memory, there has never been a strike over local issues such as those at the heart of the current dispute, he said.

Union and plant officials met in two sessions yesterday. Negotiations, which have been underway since March, are scheduled to continue later today.

Both sides expressed hope that a settlement be reached before the Monday morning deadline.

The economic impact of a GM strike would be felt well beyond the Broening Highway complex. As part of GM's $270 million renovation of the plant back in the early 1980s, the company adopted a just-in-time inventory system that has suppliers making deliveries at the plant as soon as parts are needed.

Some suppliers make two or three deliveries to the plant each day, and they could feel the impact of a shutdown almost immediately.

If there is a strike Monday morning, Mr. Youngerman said, suppliers showing up would not be able to get into the plant.

One of GM's major customers is Marada Industries, a Westminister company that supplies a number of structural metal sections used in the minivan production.

Steve Ecker, Marada's production manager, said that if a strike goes beyond a couple of days, "we would be hurting."

After a week, he said, the plant would likely have to seek voluntary layoffs from some of its 190 workers.

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