Md. plant to escape GM cuts Few job losses are expected at Broening Highway

December 13, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

The 3,700 workers at the General Motors Corp. minivan assembly plant in East Baltimore are not expected to feel the brunt of the company's massive cost-cutting restructuring plan that will be announced next week.

"Baltimore will not come through this unscathed, but the impact . . . will likely be quite minor," according to Mark L. Wasserman, the state secretary of economic and employment development.

His assessment followed telephone conversations with the head of the Broening Highway plant and the president of the union that represents the hourly workers there.

There is still speculation, however, that about 50 of the plant's approximately 325 white-collar, salaried workers may lose their jobs. The factory work force is expected to remain intact.

The number of workers in the factory has been a sensitive issue at GM's only production facility for Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans. In June, 3,400 assembly line workers walked off the job in protest of what they considered unsafe conditions resulting from the company's elimination of about 400 jobs. The four-week strike ended when GM agreed to rehire 46 of the laid-off workers.

Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers, said he would be "very much shocked" if Baltimore was included in any massive cutbacks or a closing.

"Bob Rieman flatly allayed my concerns" about the possibility of a closing, Mr. Wasserman said, referring to a discussion with the Baltimore plant's general manager, Robert R. Rieman. "He shared with me that Broening Highway is in the top 10 percent of all GM installations in terms of profitability."

Terry Youngerman, the plant's personnel manager, said he is still waiting for the specifics of the GM plan. Company Chairman Robert C. Stempel promised Wednesday that details would be announced next week.

The long-term future of the city's largest industrial employer is uncertain. Two years ago, GM said that when the vans made here undergo major restyling for the 1996 model year, there is no guarantee the product would continue to be produced here.

Kari Halsey, a spokeswoman for GM's Truck & Bus Group, which oversees the Broening Highway complex, said at the time that "Baltimore is high on the list of contenders" to build the restyled van but that other sites would be considered.

A dark cloud hanging over the Baltimore plant has to do with the city's inability to meet federal clean air standards.

Mr. Youngerman said the environmental issue is "a very real problem" for the plant. It has been operating without an environmental permit since construction of a major renovation was completed in 1984 and it began producing minivans, he noted.

Mr. Younger said the company has invested between $200 million and $300 million in pollution abatement equipment and is hopeful that additional equipment will solve emission problems that could stand in the way of changes at the factory to produce the restyled van.

Susan Wierman, deputy director of air management for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the plant has reduced emissions a great deal. She expressed confidence that with more improvements from new technology, the facility will be in a good position to accommodate an expansion associated with a model change.

Mr. Youngerman said that GM has not yet made a decision on where the new van would be built but that the plant "is proceeding along the lines that it will be here."

He said that a corporate study looking at the prospects of producing the minivan and the larger G-model van on the same assembly line has been put on a back burner.

"Right now, we are in real good shape," said Mr. Youngerman. "I can't say what will happen in 1995, '96 or '98. We can't get fat, dumb and happy. If we get sloppy, we can lose this vehicle real fast."

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