Havre de Grace plant avoids layoffs Plymouth Acclaims, Dodge Spirits need the seats it makes

April 18, 1993|By Frank Lynch | Frank Lynch,Staff Writer

About 110 jobs at a Havre de Grace plant that makes car seats have been spared at least temporarily because of an unexpected surge in orders for two Chrysler Corp. models.

In mid-March, Douglas & Lomason had told the workers to expect the layoffs in June because Chrysler had decided to phase out manufacture of the Dodge Spirit and Plymouth Acclaim at its plant in Newark, Del.

But now the company says it has staved off the layoffs after Chrysler reversed its decision and decided not to begin the phase-out until October because of an increase in orders for the cars.

Ollie Cheatham, Douglas & Lomason's vice president of human resources, said he regretted sending conflicting messages to workers, but he added that state law requires the company to give 60 days' notice of any planned layoffs of 50 or more workers.

"Fortunately," he said from his office in Atlanta, "we were able to send the second message, which contained better news."

Douglas & Lomason a 91-year-old company based in Farmington Hills, Mich., has 21 plants with 6,000 employees throughout the United States.

It has operated the 350-employee Havre de Grace plant since 1988.

Mr. Cheatham said the company has worked closely with all three major automobile manufacturers -- Chrysler, General Motors and Ford.

Keith Lomason, plant manager at the 170,000-square-foot Havre Grace facility and great-grandson of one of the company's founders, said

the mood was somber for a few days after the initial announcement.

"You can imagine how people feel when approximately one-third of the work force faces a layoff," he said.

"No one wants to see co-workers and friends put in that position."

To celebrate the reprieve, a 30-member management team, led by Mr. Lomason, cooked hot dogs on outdoor grills and served the workers around picnic tables on company grounds.

The plant can produce 1,000 auto seats a day and coordinates its assembly line with the Chrysler plant.

Seats are assembled and shipped six hours ahead of the Chrysler schedule.

As automobiles move through production, seats are unloaded in sequence to match the requirement for each car.

The plant operates 1 1/2 shifts five days per week.

In the plant's peak year of 1989, two shifts worked seven days a week.

Mr. Lomason said the plant can also make automobile ornaments, window trim, moldings and rubber strips, packaging and conveyor systems and refrigerated truck bodies.

5l "We are capable of bringing work here other than seat assembly," said Mr. Lomason. "That way, we can avoid layoffs."

Douglas & Lomason was founded in Detroit in 1902 by Alexander G. Douglas, Harry A. Lomason and Albert J. Cloutier to manufacture carriage rails for horse-drawn vehicles.

Sales peaked in 1989 at $425 million.

After a two-year slide, the company reported sales of $391 million last year, up 4 percent over 1991.

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