What's good for GM is good for Baltimore Automaker: State, city and auto manufacturer will lose if company goes the sneaker route.

July 20, 1998

IF THE country is to continue to believe the old slogan that what's good for General Motors is good for America, the automaker must start producing cars, trucks and vans more efficiently and yet avoid becoming the Nike of the future.

In its 90 years, General Motors has put American cities and towns to work, helping families buy homes and earn good wages. The company's presence has been important to Maryland -- it employs 3,000 people at its plant on Baltimore's Broening Highway, which produces the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari minivans.

In Baltimore and elsewhere, employees and public officials concerned about the economic vitality the automaker brings have reason to worry that General Motors will go too far in its drive to reduce costs in a competitive, global market. This issue is at the center of the United Auto Workers' strikes at two Flint, Mich., plants, which have resulted in shutdowns of the Baltimore assembly plant and 25 others in North America.

The strikes in Flint and impending stoppages in Ohio and Indiana magnify concerns over labor costs and job security.

GM looks with envy at rivals that produce similar vehicles far more cheaply. Some of this stems from auto designs that require more parts than it takes to build a Ford or Chrysler vehicle. But a large part of GM's price disadvantage relates to costly and inefficient union work rules. Unless there is more give-and-take at the bargaining table, families whose livelihoods have depended on auto manufacturing for generations run the risk that GM may shift more of its operations overseas.

The world's largest automaker is under enormous pressure to increase cost efficiency. But GM does not need to break its long-standing ties to communities. General Motors would be foolish to follow the lead of Nike, whose footwear is produced by low-paid Third World workers. The company's brand name is among the most recognized, but it has no factories in this country because it can find cheaper labor overseas.

City, state and union officials are looking beyond the strike. Their concern is what happens after 2004, when the company finishes production of the two minivans at Broening Highway. Their mission is to convince the automaker that maintaining a strong ++ presence here is the only way for General Motors to keep its competitive edge in this region. Baltimore and GM have strong incentives to create a mutually beneficial partnership in the decades ahead.

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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