GM plant gets 1-year extension

Broening Highway will be making vans at least through 2001

UAW local is pleased

Sales perking up for Astros and Safaris, resulting in overtime

Motor vehicles

June 30, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. Truck Group announced yesterday that it intends to keep open its van assembly plant on Broening Highway through at least 2001, promising another year of jobs to the plant's 2,800 workers.

The company previously had said it would keep the plant -- the city's largest manufacturing employer -- open through next year, but decided to extend production because of a recent upturn in demand for the Chevy Astro and GMC Safari vans made at the plant.

"It's obviously a point of relief," said Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the plant's workers. "We have a year more than we had yesterday."

The long-term future of the plant remains uncertain.

"GM will continue to monitor this extremely competitive market segment and make business decisions accordingly," the company said in its statement to employees yesterday.

As the product line of the midsize vans has aged and sales declined, there has been growing concern that the 64-year-old plant in Southeast Baltimore would close.

The state has been trying to persuade GM to keep the operation open, citing a good labor climate and pointing out that 32 percent of the U.S. population is within overnight truck access of the plant.

Last year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed a panel of high-level administration officials to coordinate the state's effort to retain the plant in Baltimore. The effort includes an incentive package to reduce GM's cost of doing business in the state.

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

While GM has remained noncommittal, a recent rise in van sales has kept workers on overtime to keep pace with the demand, the company said.

Yesterday's announcement relieves some of the immediate pressure on workers, said plant spokesman Brian Goebel. "This allows people to plan out a little further their personal and professional lives."

Between 1994 and 1998, the number of vans produced a year at Broening Highway fell from 215,000 to 138,000, said Dan Flores, spokesman for the GM Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich.

But in the past few months, a new marketing push by Chevrolet and GMC and the offering of van options at discount prices has boosted sales, he said.

"We are seeing the demand swing back up," he said.

The number of increased sales was not immediately available.

Alfred said the union hopes to use the extra time to persuade GM to produce a new product in Baltimore and keep the Broening Highway labor force.

"We are going to struggle to make the impression with GM that this work force is worth saving," he said.

At its peak, the plant employed 7,000 workers.

GM said there are no plans to alter the number of employees now at the plant.

At least some of the workers at the plant are expected to be transferred to a new truck transmission manufacturing plant that will be opened in White Marsh in 2001.

Allison Transmission, an Indianapolis-based subsidiary of General Motors, announced in May that it would open a $214 million plant in a former Redland Genstar quarry that would employ about 450 workers.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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