The sluggish economy has finally caught up with the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari minivans made in Baltimore.
The local General Motors Corp. assembly plant notified its workers yesterday that the Broening Highway plant would close for at least a week beginning Nov. 2 because of sluggish sales.
"That's right -- we'll be down for one week, as of right now," said Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers union, which represents the plant's approximately 3,000 hourly workers.
Word of the scheduled closing came just days after the Baltimore plant narrowly escaped the possibility of a separate shutdown that could have come as early as next Monday.
But that threat was averted late Friday, when the United Auto Workers reached an agreement with GM at a key parts plant in Anderson, Ind., which makes turn signals and taillights for the minivans. The Anderson plant's union workers had previously received permission from the UAW to walk off their jobs tomorrow if an agreement had not been reached.
Mr. Trump said that as a result of an earlier union agreement, workers who are laid off in November would be eligible for about 80 percent of their normal take-home pay through a combination of unemploymentbenefits and supplementary pay from the company.
Mary Ann Tyler, a spokeswoman for the GM Truck Division in Detroit, declined to discuss the scheduled shutdown of the Baltimore plant or the possibility of an extended shutdown.
She said it was the automaker's policy not to notify the press of a temporary plant closing until a couple of days before the shutdown.
The Baltimore plant began notifying its suppliers yesterday that it would halt its minivan production the first week of next month.
Dan L. Quickel, assistant general manager at the Marada IndustriesInc. plant in Westminster, which produces body components used in the assembly of the vans, said his company was notified early yesterday morning. But he said it remained unclear how the closing of the Baltimore plant would affect the Carroll County factory.
Marada is one of a handful of area companies that produce parts used at the Broening Highway plant and that make several daily deliveries as the parts are needed for van assembly.
Most such companies would be affected almost immediately by a shutdown of the GM plant here.
In August, when a strike at a GM parts supplier in Lordstown, Ohio, forced the shutdown of the Baltimore plant, Monarch Manufacturing Inc., for example, closed the same day and laid off 80 workers. Monarch, based in Belcamp, makes --boards and other plastic parts for the minivans.
A.O. Smith Automotive Products Inc., also in Belcamp, closed a week later. It makes seat frames and engine frames used in the minivans.
William Beddow, a spokesman for Johnson Controls Inc., the Belcamp supplier of minivan seats, said it was too early to determine how a closing of GM's Baltimore plant would affect the Harford County company. "We've not sorted that out yet," he said.
It has been nearly two years since the Baltimore plant halted production to bring its inventory level in line for consumer demand. It closed for four weeks, starting in late December 1990.
Mr. Trump blamed the lack of consumer confidence for the low minivan sales for November's scheduled closing.
"The poor economy is finally catching up with us," the union executive said. "It seems like people are waiting until after the [presidential] election to make vehicle purchases."
Mr. Trump said GM would like to have less than a 60-day supply ofminivans in inventory. "A 45-day supply is real nice," he added. "It keeps everybody working."
He said the Baltimore plant probably has a 90-day supply at this time.
He noted that the GM plant has been operating at nearly maximum production since the end of a strike in August.
Mr. Trump said the plant worked two hours of overtime on each shift until September. The plant was also open on about six or seven Saturdays, he said.
Gerald J. Stautberg, president of Jerry's Chevrolet, said the minivan market has been holding up better than auto sales during the current recession, but the tough economic times have caught up with the van market.
Mr. Stautberg said the Baltimore plant is also being hurt by competition, from both foreign and domestic manufacturers, which have added vans to their product lines in recent years.