Will city have a GM plant in 2001? Glendening, Schmoke, lawmakers meet with company executives

'Uphill walk' to stay open

Manufacturing

October 06, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

State and city officials face an "uphill walk" if they are to keep the General Motors assembly plant in Baltimore operating beyond 2000, according to one participant in a meeting with officials from the automaker yesterday.

Top executives of GM's Truck Group met for 90 minutes with city, state and federal officials -- including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, and U.S. Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Elijah E. Cummings -- to discuss the future of the automaker's 63-year-old plant, the city's largest manufacturing employer with 3,200 workers.

"It was clear that we have an uphill walk to keep GM in

Baltimore," said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, who attended the meeting along with representatives of the Baltimore Development Corp. and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Morfessis noted that the Baltimore plant, which produced its first vehicle in 1935, is old and has to compete with newer factories in other parts of the world.

Said Cardin: "The objective of the meeting was to keep truck/car production in Baltimore."

He said GM did not agree to extend the Baltimore plant's life beyond 2000. "But nobody said it would end in 2000," he added.

The six-member GM delegation was headed by Thomas J. Davis, a GM vice president and head of the Truck Group, and Guy D. Briggs, another GM vice president and general manager of the Truck Group.

David C. Prange, manager of the Broening Highway van assembly plant, also attended.

Davis and Briggs were not available for comment. Prange said he "was not at liberty to discuss the details of the meeting."

Prange did say that the plant "still needs to work on its quality and its competitiveness." He said he would brief plant workers on the meeting, but the briefing would be very limited in scope.

While the local plant is credited with having the best labor relationship within the Truck Group, its productivity and quality still lags behind other plants despite a 20 percent improvement over the past year.

The GM officials stressed that the company wants to achieve the highest vehicle quality rating in the industry and get costs under control.

Glendening told the officials that the state was prepared to offer GM an incentive package to help reduce its cost of doing business in Baltimore.

That could include help with environmental permits, tax credits, income tax credits and lower utility costs.

'Positive move'

"The meeting was a positive move on the governor's part," said Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the van plant's hourly workers. "It was not a 'let's make a deal' meeting, but more of a 'feel me out' meeting. It will lead to future meetings."

Alfred said the session gave the state a good opportunity to show GM that it was prepared to do whatever it can to keep this plant open.

"There were no new revelations, but the right people from GM were there and the right people from the state were there," Cardin said. "They were working together to make this plant as profitable and as productive as possible."

Cardin said it may be another 18 months before GM decides the future of the Broening HIghway plant.

The state's efforts to retain the plant shifted to a higher gear in late July, after reports that it could close.

At that time, GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John F. Smith Jr. would only promise Glendening that the Baltimore plant would remain operating for at least two years.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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