GM still noncommittal on Baltimore plant after 2000

Md. officials make case for keeping it here in meeting with executives

Motor vehicles

May 08, 1999|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Maryland officials have stepped up their efforts to retain the General Motors Corp.'s Baltimore assembly plant whose future remains in limbo beyond next year.

Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, met with Thomas J. Davis and Guy D. Briggs, two of the top executives of GM's Truck Group, which has jurisdiction over the van plant in Southeast Baltimore.

Lewin said the three-hour session at GM's headquarters in Pontiac, Mich., gave them the chance "to educate GM [officials] on all the aspects of what Maryland can do to help the company so that the decision they ultimately make on Broening Highway is in our favor."

"We know that decision is still some time away, but we want to keep a dialogue going with GM," Lewin said. The outlook for the plant, where the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans are assembled and 2,800 workers are employed, "is still very uncertain," Lewin said.

Lewin said he was encouraged by the "genuine good will" on the part of Davis and the other GM officials.

The state used the meeting to argue that the 64-year-old plant should not be closed after 2000.

Lewin said he told the GM officials that 32 percent of the U.S. population is within overnight truck access of the Baltimore plant. He also noted the healthy labor relations at the plant, a facility that has experienced only one two-week shutdown over the past 28 years and has met the company's production goals two years in a row.

Lewin said he explained the benefits to GM of the recently passed law that deregulates the power industry and the benefits of being so close to the port.

"We talked about [new plant] sites around Broening Highway, within three miles of Broening Highway and just beyond," he said.

Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group, said in an interview: "The status has not changed. We are still looking at Baltimore building the Astro and Safari vans through the 2000 model year and ultimately the future of the product and the facility will be determined by the marketplace."

After being briefed on the meeting, Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the hourly workers at the Baltimore plant, said: "There were no real negatives, but nothing positive."

He is pleased state officials are taking an active role in trying to retain the plant, but the meeting still leaves workers wondering about their future.

Alfred said the plant is working overtime to meet consumer demand for the vans.

Both day and night shift employees are scheduled to work 10-hour shifts next week and the plant has scheduled to be open today and the next two Saturdays.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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