GM strike ends as workers vote to accept proposal Impasse broken by promise to bring in more employees

July 21, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

The 4-week-old strike at General Motors Corp.'s Southeast Baltimore minivan assembly plant officially ended yesterday when an overwhelming majority of the approximately 3,200 strikers voted in favor of returning to work tomorrow.

"We won," Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers Union, exclaimed to the thousands of union members meeting at Essex Community College to hear details of the settlement worked out by their negotiators.

Mr. Trump said the strike, which idled GM's sprawling Broening Highway assembly plant and forced at least four regional companies that supply it to lay off workers, was the result of GM's refusal to address the union's claims that employees were being overworked. That led to a sharp rise in injuries on the job, he said.

The union claimed that when GM eliminated 400 jobs in February it left too much work for remaining employees, even though GM reduced the assembly line production rate to 42 vans per hour from 47. The injuries, according to the union, included cuts, back injuries from falls and repetitive strain injuries.

What the union won as a result of the 26-day strike was a concession by the company to add 46 workers to the assembly line operation when production resumes tomorrow. That's in addition to 18 workers GM had agreed to rehire prior to the strike, bringing the total number of recalls to 64.

"That's enough," Mr. Trump said after the meeting, "to correct the hundreds of cases of people being overworked on the job. And when the people are not overworked the injuries will decline."

Company officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. But they have said in the past that while injuries at the Broening Highway facility were up slight ly, there was nothing alarming about the increase and that the company was proud of its safety record.

During the 40-minute meeting held in Essex Community College's s field house, where the temperature inside seemed to rival that outside, Mr. Trump asked all employees injured on the job to stand. About 10 percent of those present stood.

The ratification vote was by a show of hands. Only a few hands were raised in opposition to the proposed settlement.

"We should take a lot of pride in that we're men and women who stood up for human rights in the workplace and we won," Mr. Trump said. Although the makeshift public address system was not working well and not everyone could understand his comments, he received a hearty round of applause.

While the union voted to go back to work, not everyone was totally happy with the agreement. Calvin Lafayette and Andrew Favor said the agreement seems to address only about 85 percent of the safety problems in the plant. They were hopeful that GM would move to correct the most serious overwork situations first.

"We got 85 percent of the job done," Mr. Favor said. "We'll work on the rest when we go back in."

As the workers were filing out of the meeting hall and expressing their joy about going back to work and getting full paychecks once again -- as opposed to their $100 per week strike benefits -- Mr. Trump was telling reporters that another strike could happen again on Oct. 7.

That's when GM is scheduled to boost the number of vehicles rolling off the assembly line each hour from 42 to 48. "GM will either add more people," said Mr. Trump, "or we will be in the same place again. We think we can work this out with them. If not, they know where we're going," he added, leaving no doubt (( that the union would be prepared to strike again if necessary. "That's not a threat. That's reality."

As part of a nearly $300 million renovation of its Baltimore plant in the early 1980s, GM adopted an inventory system that requires suppliers to make deliveries to the plant as parts are needed.

A number of companies, including Marada Industries Inc., Monarch Manufacturing Inc., Johnson Controls Inc. and A. O. Smith Automotive Products Inc., located facilities in the region so that they could meet GM's tight delivery schedules.

TTC When the GM plant was operating, some of these companies made as many as six or eight shipments to the Broening Highway complex each day. These suppliers felt the impact of the walkout and the resulting shutdown of the GM assembly line almost immediately.

Monarch, a Belcamp company that makes --boards for the GM vans, laid off its 75 production workers on June 25, the day after the strike began.

The other companies laid off workers, asked for volunteer layoffs or had employees take vacations because of the sharp drop in business.

Marada, in Westminster, makes bumper and frame parts for the GM vans. Assistant general manager Dan L. Quickel said that as many as 45 of Marada's approximately 190 workers were either on voluntary layoff or vacation last week. He said his company was lucky because it makes components for more than just GM vans.

The company was able to keep many of its employees on the job by boosting the output of parts that it makes for the Volkswagen Golf.

"That's good news," was Mr. Quickel's response to the ratification vote. "We'll hold a production meeting tomorrow to work out our schedule and we plan to start our GM production again at 11 p.m. [today]. We're all looking forward to it."

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