GM plant resumes production today Local factory is last of 27 closed by strikes to reopen


August 18, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. assembly workers in Baltimore returned to their jobs yesterday as the plant prepared to resume production today of Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans.

The plant, which shut down June 12 when it ran out of parts, was the last of the 27 GM assembly plants closed by strikes at two parts plants in Flint, Mich., to reopen.

"We will start slowly," said Joseph Jacuzzi, a spokesman for the Baltimore plant. "We will be doing some training to get people back into the swing of things."

Jacuzzi said the first van will roll off the line today and that the plant is expected to be up to full speed by the end of the week.

"It looked like Christmas morning," Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, said of the smiles on the faces of workers reporting for the 6 a.m. shift.

"Everybody is happy to get back to work."

The GM plant, with 3,100 workers, is the city's largest manufacturing employer.

Economists estimate that the plant and its local suppliers pump more than $1 billion a year into the region's economy.

About 500 maintenance employees returned to work July 30 to prepare the factory to resume production.

The strikes at the Flint parts plants, one of which lasted 54 days and the other 47 days, were the costliest ever for GM, virtually shutting down its North American production and reducing profits by an estimated $2.85 billion.

The slow start-up at the Baltimore van assembly plant will delay the recall of workers laid off by the plant's local parts suppliers.

"We plan to bring our people back on Wednesday," Joseph Schriefer, manager of the Monarch Manufacturing Inc. plant in Belcamp, said of the 105 workers who have been furloughed since mid-June.

Monarch manufactures the dashboards, center consoles and other interior components used in the vans.

Some part manufacturers will have to wait even longer to get back to work.

"Our people come back on Monday," said Len Anderson human resource director at the Tower Automotive Group plant in Belcamp.

Anderson said Tower, which supplies the plant with steel frame parts, has enough parts in stock to meet GM's needs this week.

He said the plant had 25 to 35 of its 40 workers on layoff at various times during the strikes.

The number of layoffs varied from week to week because other work was available, he explained.

The Broening Highway plant is reopening about two weeks later than GM factories in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Delaware, Louisiana and Missouri, and at a time when demand for the vans is slackening.

GM slowed production and laid off about 125 workers the week before the plant closed.

Concern for the plant's future recently prompted Gov. Parris N. Glendening to establish a panel of high-level administration officials and members of the Maryland congressional delegation to coordinate the state's effort to retain the 63-year-old factory.

The panel includes representatives of the state departments of Business and Economic Development, Transportation, Environment, General Services, and Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The committee was formed after John F. Smith Jr., GM's chairman and chief executive officer, promised the governor and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, that the Broening Highway plant would remain in operation for at least two years.

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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