Latest GM layoffs to idle 80 at Broening Highway plant Full-timers affected

changes in van design blamed for decision

November 29, 1995|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,STAFF WRITER

About 80 workers at the General Motors Corp. assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore have been told they will lose their jobs early next year as the company begins a second round of layoffs in as many months.

Unlike the layoffs announced last month, the new furloughs will not be limited to temporary workers, company and union officials said yesterday.

The latest layoffs will affect the jobs of full-time or "seniority people," said Rodney A. Trump, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the 3,300 hourly production workers at the plant.

Late last month, GM saidthat approximately 90 part-time workers would lose their jobs as the company adjusts to declining sales of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans produced at the Broening Highway plant.

Those workers are scheduled to leave at the end of this week, Mr. Trump said.

Workers involved in the second wave of layoffs will leave Jan. 2, said Jeffrey S. Kuhlman, a spokesman for the Baltimore plant.

Mr. Trump said 80 workers are scheduled to lose their jobs, but this number could be reduced slightly through attrition over the next month.

The union executive said the full-time workers will have recall rights if job openings develop in the future.

"We think the opportunity for their recall is very good in 1996," said Mr. Kuhlman. But he added that the plant must be competitive.

Mr. Kuhlman and Mr. Trump said the latest layoffs are a result of efforts to boost productivity at the plant through design changes in the vans.

"The new model does not require as many workers," said Mr. Trump.

Mr. Kuhlman said there were major changes in the interior of the 1996 vans, including a new dashboard, seats, carpet and head liners. He said the interior of the new van was designed to be easier to build with fewer workers.

Mr. Kuhlman said that no salaried workers will be laid off and that the cuts will reduce the plant's total work force to about 3,200 people.

The 1996 model of the Astro and its sister van, the Safari, began rolling off the assembly line Oct. 16.

Despite some cosmetic changes over the years, the newest midsize van is basically the same vehicle that was introduced in 1985.

The vans' old design is being blamed for the Baltimore plant's low productivity rating -- 27th among the 36 truck plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico, according to James E. Harbour, president of Troy, Mich.-based Harbour & Associates Inc., an automotive research company.

Mr. Harbour said last month that Baltimore's productivity improved by 3 percent over the past year, but the plant still needs 25 percent more workers to assemble an Astro or Safari than Ford needs to make the Aerostar, a competing rear-wheel-drive van, in St. Louis.

Mr. Trump said the Baltimore plant's low productivity rating is not the fault of workers, but has to do with the design of the vans.

He said that thousands more parts are needed to build an Astro than are needed for an Aerostar.

The last layoff at the Baltimore plant was in February 1991. At that time, the company eliminated more than 400 jobs as it reduced van production to 42 vehicles per hour from 47.

The union charged then that the company eliminated too many jobs for those left on the assembly line to perform their work safely. That issue led to a four-week strike that was settled only after GM agreed to add 46 workers to the assembly line.

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