GM nears complete shutdown in U.S. Ohio walkout forces more plants to stop

March 15, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. took another step toward a complete shutdown of its U.S. and Canadian vehicle production yesterday when it closed two more assembly plants, amid concern that the strike against two brake plants in Dayton, Ohio, could be a long one.

"Once everything is shut down, this strike could go on for some time," said David E. Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

"I think GM has said 'This is it,' " said Mr. Cole, the son of a former GM president. "I think they are drawing a line in the sand and they are ready for a fight that could last for months."

The 10-day strike has idled 111,550 GM workers, including about 2,600 at the company's Baltimore plant that produces the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans. The local plant halted production early in the second shift Tuesday.

Several other area companies that supply parts to the Broening Highway assembly plant have said that they will likely be forced to lay off some or all of their own workers early next week if the strike is not settled soon.

Nationwide, Mr. Cole said, there are thousands of companies that supply GM with parts, and University of Michigan economists are estimating that a two-week strike will force layoffs of 500,000 workers.

"This will grow to a million if the strike lasts a month," said Mr. Cole.

Mr. Cole noted that General Motors and its suppliers represent ++ about 1.5 percent of the nation's gross national product and said he "would not be surprised if Washington tried to end it."

Tom Klipstine, a GM spokesman in Detroit, said that if the strike is not settled by early next week, the automaker will curtail 98 percent of its North American production. He said the only reason it would not be a complete shutdown is because a plant in Toluca, Mexico, which makes medium-sized trucks, does not use brakes from the Dayton plants.

"By early next week, all of our assembly plants in the U.S. and Canada will be closed," Mr. Klipstine said.

The strike by 3,000 members of United Auto Workers Local 696 was sparked by the automaker's decision to buy anti-lock braking systems for 1998 Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird sport coupes from an outside supplier.

Mr. Cole said GM has been under pressure in recent years to reduce its costs of building cars, which is the highest in the industry, and said Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. make use of more outside suppliers who usually provide parts at a lower cost.

The union, in trying to protect its members' jobs, wants GM to limit purchases from outside suppliers and hire 125 additional workers at the two Dayton plants.

Assembly plants added to the company's long list of closings yesterday were:

Bowling Green, Ky., which produces the Chevrolet Corvette and employs about 450 workers.

Tarrytown, N.Y., which makes the the Chevrolet Lumina, Oldsmobile Silhouette and Pontiac TransSport minivans.

The only high-volume GM plant still operating in the United States yesterday was in Janesville, Wis., said Mr. Klipstine. It produces the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Suburban vehicles, which he called "our hottest sellers at this time." A second assembly line at Janesville that produces Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC Topkick medium-duty trucks closed earlier this week.

The union and the company met again yesterday and more talks are scheduled today.

"There was some progress," said UAW member Paul Cooper, relaying a message from Local 696 President Joseph Hasenjager. "He said, 'The strike will likely last through the weekend.' "

UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker issued a statement saying that the union regrets the impact of the strike on workers, customers and dealers, but that it is taking a stand for job security. He added that it would be a mistake for GM to underestimate the union's resolve.

"UAW members at GM across the country fully understand the importance of the company respecting our contract and abiding by its terms and fulfilling commitments made to our local unions," Mr. Shoemaker said.

In Baltimore, Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239, which represents the 3,100 hourly workers at the van assembly plant, said: "We have a strong work ethic and we would much rather be on the job, but we understand the issues here and the Dayton Local has our total sympathy and understanding."

Approximately 400 maintenance workers continue to work at the Broening Highway plant.

GM said yesterday that it would challenge attempts by UAW workers nationwide to collect unemployment benefits.

"Because we are assessed costs for state unemployment benefits, we don't believe we should finance a strike against ourselves," said Mr. Klipstine.

Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which administers unemployment benefits, ruled against GM's protest and said it will pay the local workers $250 a week.

"Our legal counsel determined that it was not a labor dispute" that resulted in layoffs of GM workers in Baltimore, "but a lack of work issue," said Karen Napolitano, an agency spokeswoman.

The current situation is different from that of GM laying off workers to limit production. Under terms of its contract, workers laid off for this reason are provided with supplementary benefits that bring them up to about 70 percent of their normal take-home pay.

"But that does not apply in this situation," said Mr. Trump. "Our people have to get by on unemployment" benefits.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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