GM plant here is likely to shut down tonight

August 25, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

The General Motors Corp. assembly plant in Baltimore is expected to close tonight, idling more than 3,200 employees and causing disruptions and probable layoffs at dozens of smaller companies that serve the plant.

The company has advised local suppliers that it anticipates halting production at the Broening Highway plant sometime during the second shift -- probably between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. -- because of a shortage of parts unless a strike against GM's Inland Fisher Guide plant in Anderson, Ind., is settled.

The Anderson facility makes parts for lights and bumpers for most of GM's vehicles, including the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans produced in Baltimore.

John Shea, a GM spokesman in Pontiac, Mich., declined to say exactly when the Baltimore plant would be forced to close. But he said that reports of a closing around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. "were in the ballpark."

"It's a day-to-day situation, and I haven't heard any specifics how long individual plants can last. Inland . . . supplies all of our assembly operations, so certainly there are ramifications there," he said.

"The last official word we have is that the plant can produce through the daylight hours [today] and into the second shift," said Rodney A. Trump, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the plant's hourly workers.

He added that even if a settlement is reached there would probably be some interruption in production at the Baltimore plant. "It will depend on how fast the workers at Anderson resume production," he said.

According to Mr. Trump, the Baltimore plant ranks high -- within the top six of all GM assembly plants -- on the priority list for receiving parts shipments once the Anderson plant resumes production.

A shutdown of GM would have "a very serious negative impact" on the region's economy, which has lagged the nation's economic recovery and is also affected by the strike of major league baseball players, said Anirban Basu, an economist with the University of Baltimore's Regional Economics Studies Program.

"It comes after a series of events that don't bode well for the local economy, including the impending London Fog closings and the closing of [the] J. Schoeneman" distribution center in Owings Mills, he said.

Widespread effects

The impact of a work stoppage at GM would be felt throughout the metropolitan region as area suppliers are forced to adjust their own production schedules to that of their major -- and, in most cases, their only -- customer.

"It will affect us immediately," said Joseph Schriefer, assistant manager at Monarch Manufacturing Inc. "When they shut down, we shut down." Monarch produces the plastic --board and center console used in the Safari and Astro. Mr. Schriefer said the company would be forced to lay off its 90 workers.

Dan L. Quickel, a manager at Westminster-based Marada Industries Inc., which makes structural parts for the van, said the company would finish both shifts today and then ask its 235 workers to take voluntary layoffs tomorrow.

The Johnson Controls Inc. plant in Belcamp, which makes seats for the vans, would have to close with the shutdown of GM, said manager M. Dennis Sisolak. If the disruption is brief, he said, the company can avoid temporary layoffs by using the time to train workers and do other jobs, including cleaning the building.

William Corrie, manager at A. O. Smith Automotive Products Inc. in Belcamp, said his plant will continue to operate tomorrow but would probably be forced to close Monday if the strike is not settled. The company has 80 workers and makes the frame that holds the engine and transmission of the four-wheel drive versions of the vans.

David Healy, an industry analyst with S. G. Warburg & Co. in New York, said effects of a protracted strike would be seen quickly.

"Most of the models GM produces are going to have parts that are built at Anderson," he said. "If [the strike] goes on for a few days, it pretty much starts shutting down GM production."

About 3,300 members of United Auto Workers Local 663 walked off the job at the Inland plant Tuesday morning to protest what the union called the company's threat to their job security by giving more work to nonunion members.

Negotiations continue

GM spokeswoman Lynda Kosinski said that the two sides are negotiating and that the company is hopeful a settlement can be reached soon.

A halt in production at the Baltimore plant would come at a time when GM is looking at ways of increasing van production to meet demand for the popular vehicles. One of several options being considered is adding a third shift.

Safari sales were up 18 percent last year, and Astro sales jumped 8.4 percent. To meet the strong consumer demand, workers at the Broening Highway plant have been putting in 50-hour weeks for more than a year.

The Baltimore plant's last work stoppage was in August 1992, when a strike at a GM parts plant in Ohio halted production for eight days.

GM confirmed last night that it will be forced to close three vehicle assembly plants tomorrow and lay off about 10,000 workers as a result of the Anderson strike. They are: the Buick City, Mich., plant, which makes the Buick LeSabre, Oldsmobile 88 and Buick Park Avenue; the Fort Wayne, Ind., plant that makes the full-size Chevrolet pickup truck; and the Oshawa, Ontario, plant that produce the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Lumina.

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