Local workers' contract expires Saturday Manpower a key issue, union president says

September 08, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

While Charles R. Alfred may be looking to 1998 and beyond as he seeks to secure the long-term future of the General Motors Corp. assembly plant in Baltimore, the UAW Local 239 president is also keeping a close eye on the calendar this week.

With the expiration Saturday of the local's contract with the Southeast Baltimore van assembly plant looming, Alfred said much still needs to be accomplished before a new pact is ready for rank-and-file approval.

"Negotiations are pretty much at a standstill," Alfred said late last week. "We're still waiting for management to sit down at the table."

The local talks don't involve issues such as wages, fringe benefits and GM's purchase of parts from outside suppliers. These and other national issues are a part of the United Auto Workers' international talks in Detroit.

"Most of our issues are what you would call creature comforts," Alfred said. "They involve safety in the workplace, the cleanliness of the factory and job classifications."

"One big issue," he said, "is manpower," the number of people needed to run the factory.

He said the company plans to boost the speed of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari van assembly line to produce 53 vehicles per hour, up from the current rate of 51.

Yet to be resolved is how many workers will be needed to safely run the assembly line at the higher speed.

A similar issue involving production line speed and safety at the plant resulted in a four-week strike in the summer of 1991.

According to Alfred, plant management also wants to reduce the number of job classifications and have workers perform different duties -- a demand that the union sees as taking away the right of senior assembly-line workers to apply for some of the better jobs in the plant.

As things stand now, the union official said, an assembly line worker with seniority can apply for a more desirable job as driver or take a position in the materials department that involves hauling supplies from the truck or rail docks to the assembly line.

"These are better jobs in the minds of most employees," said jTC Alfred. "They certainly beat chasing the assembly line."

Local GM spokesman Jeffrey S. Kuhlman said the company and plant management did not want to comment on the status of negotiations other than to say they seem to be moving forward.

"Issues come to the table and fall off the table," he said, and the plant's position is to withhold comment until a contract is ratified by the union membership.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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