GM wants Md. to stop paying laid-off workers About 3,000 from plant in Balto. get benefits

July 02, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF Bloomberg News Service contributed to this article.

General Motors Corp. wants Maryland to halt payments of unemployment benefits to about 3,000 union workers at its Southeast Baltimore van assembly plant who were laid off last month as a result of strikes at two GM parts plants in Flint, Mich.

The local development comes as GM is indicating that it may drop some low-profit cars if United Auto Workers' strikes continue into August.

The No. 1 automaker had asked the state Office of Unemployment Insurance to either reconsider its June 12 decision to pay the benefits to the laid-off workers at the Broening Highway plant or it will appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

In a letter sent yesterday to Anthony Klemer of GM's employees benefit department in Detroit, the unemployment office said its decision to pay the benefits "should not be reconsidered."

John T. McGucken, a lawyer for the office, explained in the letter that Maryland's decision was based on the fact that the UAW workers at the local plant are unemployed because of a parts shortage, not a labor dispute. McGucken said he referred the company's complaint to the appeals board.

Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said the board is trying to schedule a hearing before the end of the month. But she said that would take some time, because the GM workers who have applied for unemployment benefits must be notified of the hearing.

Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the hourly workers at the GM plant, said he was appalled by the company's action.

"GM is acting like a criminal," he said. "They're holding our members hostage until they get their demands met in Flint. They are trying to starve out the members of Local 239, who had no input in the strike and will have no input into the settlement."

Alfred said union members "were willing to work when they put us out of the building. We are ready and willing to work now."

He said most of the laid-off GM workers are getting $250 a week in unemployment benefits, about half their regular salaries.

GM spokeswoman Charlotte Grimm said the company is not singling out the Broening Highway workers, but is appealing decisions in all states that pay the benefits.

Grimm said it is GM's long-standing practice not to finance strikes; when workers are laid off, the company is billed for at least a portion of the unemployment benefits paid by the states.

Napolitano said the appeals board's decision on the GM request would apply to laid-off workers at other Maryland factories that make parts for the van plant.

At least four Baltimore area companies that make parts for Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans have had to alter their own production and lay off workers because of the Broening Highway plant shutdown.

Three of the companies are in Belcamp. Johnson Controls Inc., which makes seats, has laid off 180 workers. Monarch Manufacturing Inc., which supplies dashboards and center consoles, has laid off 105, and Tower Automotive Group has laid off 20 of its 21 employees.

Marada Industries Inc., in Westminster, has furloughed 100 of its 450 employees.

During a news conference in Detroit yesterday, Ronald Zarrella, GM's top marketing executive, said that if the strikes run much longer there may be an "opportunity" to quit making low-margin car lines faster than the company anticipated. Over the past four years, GM has cut the number of its models to 80 from 109, but analysts say the remaining number still is far too many.

Zarrella's remarks came as top negotiators for GM and the union planned their second meeting this week to try to craft a framework for settling the strikes. GM will be represented by Gerald Knechtel, vice president for North American personnel, and the UAW by Richard Shoemaker, vice president for GM bargaining, said Larry Fogelberg, a strike coordinator at UAW Local 651 in Flint.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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