The Electro-Motive division of General Motors Corp. took the first steps yesterday toward closing its locomotive parts rebuilding operation in Halethorpe, telling the 70 workers that most of them would be transferred to the company's local minivan assembly plant.
The 46-year-old plant at 4701 Washington Blvd. refurbishes used turbo chargers, traction motors and alternators used in diesel locomotives -- which are made by the Electro-Motive unit.
The decision to close the plant came after GM decided to contract with MagneTek Inc. at its Columbus, Ohio, plant to rebuild the motors and alternators, according to Richard Fleming, general director of personnel and public relations for Electro-Motive. The company is moving the turbo charger work to its factory in LaGrange, Ill., outside of Chicago, he said.
There is still a chance the decision could be reversed if the United Auto Workers, the union representing workers here, can show in the next four months that the Halethorpe operation can do the work more cheaply. But Mr. Fleming said this was doubtful.
"It's not a fait accompli," he said. But asked if the plant will close, Mr. Fleming said, "More than likely, yes."
Of the 63 hourly workers at the plant, 17 will be transferred Monday to the Broening Highway minivan plant in Baltimore and two will go to the LaGrange facility, Mr. Fleming said. The remaining 44 workers will continue to work on orders in Halethorpe and will be gradually transferred to the minivan plant and LaGrange during the next four months.
The seven salaried workers at the plant will be transferred to other Electro-Motive operations.
Local 141 of the United Auto Workers plans to file a grievance with the company, charging that it did not follow the national labor agreement on how to negotiate with the union before contracting out work, according to John T. Burda Jr., shop chairman.
"We were disappointed and upset at the way it came down," he said. "Management should have forewarned us about it."
While the workers have been promised new jobs, he said, four skilled workers will see their pay drop to $16 an hour from $18.60 and many more will see 10 to 20 cents trimmed from their hourly rate.
Workers are also unhappy about switching from relatively skilled, customized work, to the routine of an assembly line job, Mr. Burda said. "If I didn't have a family to feed, I wouldn't be going there," said the 33-year-old machinist.
Electro-Motive, one of two American diesel locomotive makers, has made an average of 200 locomotives each year during the past five years, Mr. Fleming said. The other locomotive maker is General Electric Co., which produced about 80 percent of the domestically made locomotives, he said.
GM has been trying to sell the Electro-Motive division for two years, according to a June 28 issue of Crain's Chicago Business, a weekly business publication. TMB Industries, a Chicago manufacturer, has expressed interest in buying the business that has $1 billion in annual revenues, the article said.
Mr. Burda said Electro-Motive has said an investment group will buy 80 percent of the company on Sept. 1, but has not revealed the buyers.