Talks resume at GM plant Plant workers say cuts have hindered safety.

June 25, 1991|By Liz Atwood and Edward L. Heard Jr. | Liz Atwood and Edward L. Heard Jr.,Evening Sun Staff Ross Hetrick contributed to this article

Negotiations resumed today between union and management representatives at the General Motors Corp. plant on Broening Highway after workers walked off their jobs.

Workers struck the plant yesterday, protesting what they say are unsafe working conditions caused by job cutbacks.

Both sides said the walkout was "businesslike" and no incidents of sabotage or violence have been reported.

Twenty-four workers picketed in front of the plant today. Most were willing to talk about the union side of the issue, with several declaring that an improved working environment is worth striking and waiting for.

GM officials have refused to comment on the issues involved in the strike.

Motorists today beeped their horns and waved to show their support for the pickets.

Berry Jones, 50, said he will retire in December after 32 years at the plant. He said plant workers are treated unfairly and deserve all the support they can get.

"I have to support the union," Jones, who does cleanup and maintenance work, said. "I'm injured and this is not the first time."

Last July, Jones said he fell on the job and suffered injuries to his right hand, his right leg and lower back. "Just look at this," he said,limping and showing off a swollen hand.

He said that he has sharp pains in his back when he bends over and that he cannot make a fist or grasp items with his hand.

"When you're hurt around here, they [rarely] give you time off," Jones said. "You just have to suffer and take pills."

GM failed to acknowledge the employees were having troubles, said Rodney Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers, which represents 3,200 employees at the plant.

Trump said the union would remain on strike until workers' complaints are addressed.

Randall Mullins, 42, who has worked at the plant for 23 years, said the company is too stubborn to admit it is neglecting workers.

They're neglectful," Mullins, a trim shop assembler said. "They know what they're doing wrong, but they just don't want to see it."

Nonetheless, Mullins said he is optimistic that problems between the union and management will be resolved.

L "As long as they're talking, they're moving," Mullins said.

The plant makes Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans. GM officials in Detroit said about a six-week supply of the vans are at dealerships or en route.

Although the Baltimore plant is the only one that makes those models, the strike's impact on the entire GM operation probably will be limited unless the strike drags on.

Larry Hall, 46, an assembler, said today the strikers are doing more than just making demands, they are setting a model for assembly workers who may experience similar conditions at other plants.

"If we hold out it will give other truck and bus [assemblers] strength," Hall said. "So when things come down the pipe, they'll take action like we are."

Ronald Glantz, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds, said the strike's effect could be diminished by slightly higher than normal inventories of the mid-size vans. "They could have a two-week strike without affecting sales," he said.

The local operation is one of 37 GM assembly plants in North America. "Closing one plant is nothing," Glantz said. "We aren't going to see any impact on a company with sales equal to the GNP of Brazil."

However, Talbot Daley, vice president of marketing with Legg Mason in Baltimore, said the action comes at a critical time when Chrysler Corp. is stepping up its marketing efforts for its mid-size vans.

Daley said his "gut feeling" is that both management and union members will try to resolve the differences before production starts on the new models late this summer.

The problems at the plant go back to February, when several hundred workers were laid off. Though all the laid-off workers have been rehired on a permanent or a temporary basis to fill in for others on vacation, the overall work force is down by about 300 people.

The company has reduced the production speed on the assembly line but the union contends workers still are being asked to do too much, creating an unsafe work place. The union said injury rate is 10 times the number of injuries before the job eliminations, he said.

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