Local GM plant to resume work 2,800 to return tomorrow

September 09, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

The local General Motors minivan plant is scheduled to resume production tomorrow morning, which will make it one of the last factories to recall its workers after a crippling strike in Lordstown, Ohio.

Yesterday afternoon, the local plant began notifying about 2,800 workers to report to work with the start of the first shift at 6 tomorrow. Those workers were laid off Aug. 31 after a shortage of parts caused a halt in production at the Baltimore plant.

Terry Youngerman, a spokesman for the local plant, said about 75 to 100 skilled workers would return to work later tonight to prepare the factory for an early-morning start-up.

GM officials in Detroit had no clear explanation of why Baltimore was so low on the list of plants receiving parts from the Lordstown plant that are needed to resume production.

"I can't tell you why Baltimore wasn't first," said Charles Licari, a GM spokesman in Detroit. He said the decisions on start-up dates were based on an assessment of several factors, including distance from the Lordstown factory, how parts are shipped and the production runs of parts at the Ohio plant.

The strike at the Lordstown plant began Aug. 27, when members of the United Auto Workers walked off their jobs after talks with the company failed to resolve a dispute over issues related to job security, safety and GM's plans to close a tool-and-die shop that employs 240 workers.

The strike idled nearly 43,000 autoworkers and nine plants around the country. It ended Saturday morning, when union members approved a tentative settlement worked out during around-the-clock negotiations.

In setting its schedule to resume production tomorrow morning, Mr. Youngerman said the plant is counting on a shipment of parts due to arrive by train at 3 or 4 a.m. "We're running it pretty tight," he said.

At least one Baltimore plant employee was glad to be going back to work, even if it was a day or two after most of his GM colleagues were recalled.

"Oh yeah, it's going to be great," said Henry Bert, an assembly-line worker who installs air-conditioning components on the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari minivans produced at the plant. "I sure can use a paycheck again."

Although his unemployment check was much smaller than his normal take-home pay, Mr. Bert said he was in full support of the Lordstown strikers. "Nobody likes being on strike or being caught up in a strike," he said. "But as I see it, their struggle was our struggle."

The pinch on family budgets was not limited to workers at the city's largest manufacturing employer. Several area companies who make parts for GM's Baltimore plant had to interrupt their production and lay off workers.

The GM plant in Wilmington, Del., which draws about one-fourth of its 3,200 workers from the Northeast section of Maryland, was also stifled by the Lordstown strike and forced to close.

A GM spokeswoman, Linda McGill, said the Wilmington plant is scheduled to begin production of Chevrolet Corsicas and Berettas this morning.

Under its so-called just-in-time inventory system adopted in th mid-1985, GM tries to have parts delivered to the plant as needed. Some companies located factories in the Baltimore metropolitan area for this purpose.

Some of these plants make four to five deliveries to the plant each shift. When the Baltimore minivan plant ceased production, they were quick to follow suit.

One was Johnson Control Inc., a Belcamp company that makes seats for the minivans.

William Beddow, manager of employee relations, said his company would resume production tomorrow morning for the first time since the GM plant in Baltimore closed. It is recalling about 70 workers who had accepted a voluntary layoff during the shutdown.

About 23 laid-off workers at the A. O. Smith Automotive Products Inc. plant in Belcamp will have to wait until Monday before reporting back to work.

The parts supplier did not shut down until yesterday, and a company spokesman said there were enough parts in inventory to supply the Baltimore plant until next week.

Monarch Industries Inc. is recalling 85 laid-off workers at its Belcamp plant tomorrow, when the factory resumes its production of --boards for the minivans.

The laid-off GM workers, like those at Monarch, Johnson Controls and A.O. Smith, will have only their state unemployment checks to help cover lost wages.

The average pay for assembly-line workers is $680 a week, according to Rodney A. Trump, president of UAW Local 239, which represents workers at the Baltimore plant. This compares with the maximum unemployment benefit of $223 a week, according to Marilyn J. Corbett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development.

Mr. Trump said about 200 local GM workers received "no benefits whatsoever" because they only recently moved to Baltimore after having been laid off at other GM plants and had not earned enough money to qualify for unemployment benefits.

In some cases, Mr. Trump said, the union supplied workers with food to help them through the difficult period.

The GM assembly plants in Baltimore and Wilmington were among nine assembly plants across the country that were forced to close after they ran out of parts supplied by the Lordstown factory.

Yesterday, GM activated its Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., along with a plant in Lordstown that makes the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird. Another plant in Flint, Mich., that produces the Oldsmobile 88 and Buick LeSabre, also restarted.

GM's plants in Wilmington; Wentzville, Missouri; Orion Township, Mich.; and Lansing, Mich., are scheduled to begin producing cars again this morning, Mr. Licari said.

Mr. Licari said he was not certain when the company's Buick Century and Oldsmobile Ciera assembly plant in Oklahoma City would return to production.

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