Two weeks into a strike by United Auto Workers at the General Motors van plant on Broening Highway, the factory's suppliers are running out of ways to keep their workers busy.
The A.O. Smith Automotive Products Co. in Belcamp, which makes an underbody support structure for the vans, is scheduled to lay off 10 of its 25 workers today.
"We see ourselves in a pretty critical junction," says Edward O'Connor, vice president of human resources and public affairs.
Union officials and GM management say some progress was made on minor issues in negotiations earlier this week, but major differences remain in the dispute that caused 3,200 workers to walk off their jobs on June 24 and left the plant idle.
The union contends that too many workers have been taken off the production line, making it unsafe for workers who remain. They also say the company is denying employees vacation time because the plant is short-handed.
The company contends that the issue is not safety, but productivity. The plant has roughly the same number of workers as it has had for several years and the assembly line has been slowed down.
Terry Youngerman, a GM spokesman, says no agreement is in sight.
That's bad news for suppliers, who are pinning hopes on a quick resolution.
"As things go longer, we're offering more and more options," says Dennis Sisolak, manager of the Johnson Controls Inc. plant in Westminster that makes seats for the vans.
Initially Johnson offered vacations to its workers, while keeping one assembly line working. Other employees were assigned to attend training sessions.
But now that the training is over, and there's no sign of resolving the strike, Johnson has resorted to layoffs.
"We've offered voluntary layoffs and some are taking that option," Sisolak says.
He estimated that about a third of the 175 workers at the plant have been laid off, a third are on vacation, and a third remain building seats for other GM factories.
Marada Industries has avoided laying off workers, but still is feeling the effects of the strike. "We're limping, but we're still going," says Daniel Quickel, assistant general manager of the plant, which makes body components.
The plant is concentrating on making parts for Volkswagen, Chrysler and Honda, Quickel says, and probably can operate three or four more weeks without layoffs.
Monarch Manufacturing Inc., of Belcamp, which makes instrument and knee-restraint panels used in the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, laid off its 75 hourly workers the day after the strike began.
The union says the strike will continue until the company changes the status of an unspecified number of temporary workers and makes them permanent employees. Most of these people were workers who were laid off in February and hired back to fill in for workers on vacation.
The company says the union is unfairly presenting the issues by saying worker injuries have skyrocketed this year.
"During the first five months of this year, the reported injuries and illnesses were up only slightly," says GM's Youngerman. "It's really unfair what's being reported."
But union spokesman Sonny Biedrzycki insists that safety is a major issue.