Auto union, GM agree on local pact Both sides pledge cooperation to keep city van plant open

Members vote today

Local 239 resolves contract issues at Broening Highway

November 16, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

United Auto Workers Local 239 and General Motors Corp. reached a tentative agreement yesterday on a new three-year contract, and the two sides pledged to work together in the future to keep the van assembly plant in Baltimore open.

General Motors plans to introduce a completely redesigned van in 2004 to replace the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari that have been assembled at the plant since 1985. The company has not said where it will build the new van, but it is expected to make a decision within the next few years. With hopes of persuading GM's top management to continue its 61-year association with Baltimore, Charles R. Alfred, president of Local 239, said the union and management agreed "to do the things we need to do to keep the plant here."

Rank-and-file members will meet at Dundalk Community College at noon today to vote on the local contract as well as the national agreement negotiated between GM and the UAW on Nov. 2.

Alfred referred to both agreements as "fair and equitable" and predicted that the 3,100 union workers in Baltimore would vote in favor of both. The GM plant is the city's largest manufacturing employer.

Other union locals around the country are scheduled to complete their voting on the national agreement by Sunday evening. The union anticipates it will be approved.

According to Alfred, the union and GM's management of the Broening Highway plant reached an agreement at 1: 20 a.m. The two sides had been negotiating for several months.

Jeffrey S. Kuhlman, a spokesman for the Baltimore plant, said that GM was happy that a settlement was reached and is hopeful it will be ratified by workers.

Kuhlman said that the two sides intend to work closely together to boost the competitive position of the Baltimore plant as a means of securing its future.

He said such cooperation would be viewed favorably by GM's top management in Detroit as it makes its long-range product plans.

In September, the local offered to negotiate a contract years ahead of schedule and with major concessions in exchange for a promise from GM that it would keep the Baltimore plant open. The company, according to the union, declined.

However, Alfred said yesterday that he "came away [from the negotiations] with a positive feeling. I think we have an understanding that it is within the best interests of both sides to work together to try to bring us a new product here. We will be working very hard to do that."

He conceded that the union has no commitment that GM will keep the plant open.

Alfred declined to provide specifics of the tentative agreement, but he said it addresses the key issues of job classifications, staffing levels and plant sanitation.

He said that all previous job classifications have been retained, restrooms will be refurbished and there will be additional people to keep the plant clean and safe.

GM began building cars here in 1935. To help ensure the plant's future, Alfred said the union has agreed to work with management to address issues and solve problems as they arise.

"If there is a way we can be more efficient, we have agreed to work with management to resolve issues in order to keep the plant in Baltimore," he said.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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