GM layoff means no more dining out Unemployment: Area General Motors workers laid off because of the strikes in Michigan are scraping by, but some are feeling the pinch.

July 10, 1998|By Ted Shelsby and Mark Guidera | Ted Shelsby and Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

You won't see Rick Malloy at McDonald's.

A Big Mac is a luxury he can no longer afford.

"There's no more eating out," he said. "I'm staying around the apartment and watching a lot of television. I've got to keep an eye on my money."

Malloy is one of the approximately 3,000 area autoworkers laid off from their jobs at the General Motors Corp. van assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore as a result of strikes at two GM parts plants in Flint, Mich.

As talks continued yesterday at the Michigan plants, top negotiators for General Motors and the United Auto Workers differed on whether a deal to end the two strikes could be reached by the weekend.

UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker said he doubted that a deal could be reached by then, but his counterpart at GM, personnel Vice President Gerald Knechtel, said he thought it was possible.

There has been speculation that GM has been pushing for a settlement by today so that it could be ratified and the two strikebound parts plants in Flint could reopen by Monday, when GM's two-week vacation shutdown ends and strike losses begin accruing again.

In addition to the closing of the Broening Highway plant, the strikes in Michigan have forced the layoffs of 400 other workers at four Baltimore-area companies that supply it with parts. They are the Johnson Controls Inc., Tower Automotive Group and Monarch Manufacturing Inc. in Belcamp and Marada Industries Inc. in Westminster.

Most of the local workers have been getting by on weekly unemployment checks for nearly a month, and they are feeling the financial pinch of the strike, some more than others.

In many cases, vacations have been canceled. Eating out has become a thing of the past. Trips to the shopping mall have ended, and meals are being stretched.

The strike has hit Malloy's wallet particularly hard.

The 51-year-old a maintenance welder from Perry Hall doesn't qualify for state unemployment benefits yet as a result of his recent humanitarian work with GM and the United Auto Workers union in Atlanta.

He returned to Maryland in February after an eight-year "special assignment" in which he helped GM workers who had been laid off as a result of plant closings find new jobs.

Malloy said he was told that he has not been working in Maryland long enough to qualify for benefits, but the decision is being reconsidered. He originally started working at the Baltimore plant in 1973.

Malloy said his savings are "going down, big time" and that he is beginning to look at the limits on his credit cards in case he has to draw on them.

On the day he was laid off, he and his wife, Clover, were scheduled to put a $2,000 deposit on a home. Those plans have been shelved -- they are using the money to buy groceries.

Barbara Ratliffe, a line worker at Broening Highway for 25 years, had been hoping to visit California for the first time on a vacation trip this summer. But she and her husband decided to cancel the trip.

"I'm disappointed, but we decided that we might need that money to maintain our bills if this goes on much longer," said the 47-year-old Woodlawn resident.

The couple also have cut back on other spending, such as their weekend campground trips, to ensure that they can pay their mortgage and other bills.

For now, says Ratliffe, they aren't financially strained. She has just begun receiving unemployment benefits of about $1,000 monthly, and her husband is employed as a truck driver.

"We can probably last another month before things turn sour," she said.

Her chief worry is medical benefits. Both are covered through her plan with GM.

Ratliffe is among those concerned about whether GM will end its medical benefit coverage for laid-off workers. GM wants to cancel covering health coverage for workers laid off as a result of the strike.

Ratliffe said she had planned to schedule a surgical procedure that her doctor had been advising but decided to delay it until she is certain she'll be covered by medical leave benefits.

Wilhemenia Glenn, a paint shop worker, has learned to stretch meals since her weekly $500 to $700 GM paychecks disappeared.

"Last night we had chicken salad for dinner," she said. "You can make a lot of chicken salad with three half sections of breast." She laughed and added, "It goes a long way. We had chicken salad for lunch and chicken salad. "

Glenn lives in Westview Place with her husband, a civilian employee at the Pentagon, her 15-year-old son and her 16-year-old daughter.

"We're fortunate," she said. "We're doing pretty good. I've been putting a little money aside since last year, when van sales began to dip and they laid us off a week here and week there. But if this strike goes into August, then I'll worry."

Despite feeling fortunate, Glenn said she canceled a trip to Florida to visit her family. They were to leave yesterday.

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