Factory's workers greet purchase by GE with relief After lots of rumors, sale lets employees look to future

November 04, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

For weeks, Larry Dembo had gone through the same nerve-wracking routine at Lockheed Martin's factory in Middle River: Get to work at 7: 30 a.m., log onto the computer and field the latest rumors about being sold out by headquarters.

Yesterday, the gossip finally came true.

General Manager Ray Roquemore came on the intercom around 9 a.m. with the news that General Electric Co. was going to be the plant's new owner.

"It was a big relief," said Dembo, who in 18-plus years at the plant has weathered plenty of change. "I was proud to work for FTC Martin Marietta, and proud to work for Lockheed Martin and now I'm sure I'll be proud to work for GE."

His sanguine reaction replayed throughout the plant's 1,500-person work force yesterday. Workers picked up letters and Q-and-A sheets with information about their employee benefits, spent a few quiet moments on the plant floor reading them, and then went back to work building thrust reversers and airplane parts.

It was a far cry from just over a year ago, when employment was down around 1,000 at the 68-year-old plant and everyone thought it was going to close. Since then, a boom in the commercial aircraft business and Roquemore's leadership have led the plant into a dramatic rebirth.

Roquemore said yesterday that he will continue to run the plant and that he stands by his goal of reaching 3,000 employees by the end of next year. His reassuring message, repeated throughout the day in meetings of 250 employees at a time, hit home with workers tired of expecting the worst.

"The bottom line is, we are going to dictate our own future by how much [production] we put out," said Fran Cook, a repair station manager in the plant's Center for Aircraft Maintenance, as he walked out of one of the meetings.

Cook, 35, grew up nearby and said he remembered always being able to look across the water and see Martin Marietta. Generations of Middle River residents had a similar experience; aviation pioneer Glenn L. Martin put up the first factory building -- there in 1929, and 53,000 people worked there during World War II. Now, Cook said, "you have to look to the future. Things change, and you have to keep up."

"Business is business," agreed Lisa Dobrzycki, a maintenance technician who repairs engines. With so many mergers and consolidations, she said, "it's hard to retire from one company in today's society."

Several of the workers were excited at the prospect of being part of GE -- a gigantic company with even more resources than Lockheed Martin.

"GE is No. 1 in the engine market. This is a core industry for them, so this is a big plus for us," Dembo said. He added that GE might even be able to bring them more work from Boeing Co., since Middle River won't be a part of Boeing's primary competitor.

Lockheed Martin also is in the middle of buying Northrop Grumman Corp., which has an enormous business making airplane parts that could have cut into Middle River's franchise.

"We're a better fit with GE than what we would have been with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman," Dembo said.

Still, there was plenty of anxiety among workers, and even some sadness over the loss of the Martin name.

As Middle River spokesman Michael DiMauro said yesterday, "For the 70 years this plant has been here, it's always had the name Martin on the side, whether it was Martin Aviation or Martin Marietta or Lockheed Martin."

And there was some confusion. Most workers thought they had proved themselves a worthy, profitable part of Lockheed Martin. Just as they got back on their feet, the rug was pulled out from under them again.

This time, unlike past times of uncertainty when business was poor and workers were being laid off, the plant appears to be dealing from a position of strength.

So among all the conflicting feelings yesterday, the strongest seemed to be relief. "It's nice to know it's finally over," said engine technician John Zartman.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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