General Motors Corp. is set to boost the output Monday of the popular minivans built at its Broening Highway plant from 42 units an hour to 48 to meet consumer demand, the company disclosed yesterday.
Similar production-line adjustments earlier this year resulted in a bitter, four-week strike by 3,200 production workers that halted production at the Southeast Baltimore plant and resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of other workers at a half dozen area companies that supply the sprawling GM complex.
But things appear to be different this time, according to both union and GM representatives. They expressed confidence yesterday that the production changes at the plant can be implemented without a labor dispute.
Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers union, which represents the hourly workers at the plant, said that GM appears to be willing to bring in "hundreds" of additional workers to achieve the production increase. "We're optimistic," he said, that the adjustment can be made without a strike.
Speaking for the GM plant, Terry Youngerman, director of personnel, said: "We're going to work this thing out, we're very, very optimistic about that." He said that the two sides already have put a lot of time into working out any problems. "We're very confident we can get this all worked out."
Mr. Youngerman said that GM was hiring "150, or so, new people" to facilitate the boost in production. The new hires, he said, have come from the ranks laid-off GM workers, primary those that lost their jobs last year when the automaker closed a plant in Framingham, Mass.
The next two weeks will tell if the changes can be made without a labor dispute, said Mr. Trump. It will take that much time to gradually increase the line speed from 42 to 48 units per hour and to determine if there are enough workers on the assembly line to safely perform the work, he said.
Workers walked off the job June 24 when the union and the company were unable to agree on the size of the work force needed to build the vans. In February, when GM curbed van production here to 42 units per hour from 47, it eliminated about 400 jobs.
That was too many cuts, and the remaining workers could not safely perform their tasks, the union charged. The UAW claimed that injuries rose sharply during the period. The strike ended when the company agreed to bring back 46 workers.
Although auto sales have been extremely weak in recent years, there has been strong consumer acceptance of the minivans made on Broening Highway. To meet this demand, Mr. Youngerman said, workers have been working overtime since the new model was introduced in early September.
He said that some shifts have worked 10-hour days "and we've worked a Saturday or two."
In an effort to make the van more popular, GM is planning to add a new rear door that eliminates the upper portion of the vertical door pillar that obstructs the view when looking through the rear-view mirror.
Mr. Youngerman said that the new door assembly will be divided into sections. The top portion, which holds the window, will be altered so that it can be opened by lifting. The bottom section will be similar to what now exists. He said that the new rear door "would be more functional" and easier to operate.