More than three weeks after 3,200 workers walked off their jobs at the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, the vans they produced are no longer to be found in the showrooms.
The Baltimore operation is the only plant in the country that makes the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans.
"We're absolutely out of them," said Michael Beck, sales manager at Jerry's Chevrolet Inc. at Joppa Road and Perring Parkway.
Beck said two or three customers come to the dealership each day inquiring about the vans. As are other dealerships, Jerry's is calling around the area trying to find the vehicles, but few are available.
"We don't have a single minivan to sell and we have a great demand for them," said Lew Rice, new truck manager of Criswell Chevrolet-Geo-Lotus in Gaithersburg. "We could use 30 to 50 of those vans."
Ralph Lindner, salesman at Miller Brothers Chevrolet Inc. in Ellicott City, said he is trying to sell customers a Chevrolet APV, a model that has the features of the minivan and a station wagon. But the vehicle is not a perfect substitute for the Astro minivan, which has the power of a truck, he said.
Members of the United Auto Workers union went on strike June 24 to protest staffing levels at the plant. They contend that the assembly line is short-handed, causing worker accidents and illnesses to increase. They also are complaining that the company is not allowing workers to take vacations because of the worker shortages.
Management is arguing that the issues do not involve safety, but worker productivity. The company says the work force is approximately the same as it has been in recent years and that worker injuries have not increased significantly.
Negotiators have met every weekday since the strike began to try to work out the differences, but little progress has been made, according to both sides.
"There have always been some difficult issues and they don't seem to be getting any better," said Terry Youngerman, the plant spokesman.
"It's disappointing," said union spokesman Sonny Biedrzycki. Yesterday's talks, he said, "just didn't go anywhere."
Meanwhile, dealers are left wondering whether their customers' orders for minivans will be filled and whether any more 1991 models will be produced.
Some of the dealers say it's a strike they can't afford. The dealers say that with the automobile industry still smarting from the recession, they looked to popular vehicles such as the vans to help them make a profit.
"It's going to hurt Chevrolet," Lindner predicted.