GM plant loses a shift

900 to 1,200 jobs threatened at city's van assembly facility

April 11, 2000|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. made it official yesterday, announcing that it would eliminate the second shift at its van assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore in July -- and with it up to 1,200 jobs.

Hourly workers at the plant received the word at 9 a.m. when the assembly line was shut down and plant manager David C. Prange addressed them on an in-house video system.

Although GM said in November that it would cut the second shift, plant spokesman Brian Goebel said the formal announcement represented "a tough situation" for workers.

Goebel could not say how many workers would lose their jobs.

"There is no specific number," he said. "The details are still being worked out."

Charles R. Alfred, president of United Autoworkers Local 239, which represents about 2,500 hourly workers, estimated that the shutdown would eliminate 900 to 1,200 jobs.

Alfred said he was deeply disturbed by the announcement.

"It flies in the face of the agreement we signed in September to make the plant more competitive," he said. "Everything they said they needed, we gave them.

"It looks to me like GM is trying to choke the life out of Baltimore."

Goebel said about 380 assembly plant workers would be transferred to GM's new Allison Transmission plant in White Marsh. The $216 million facility is scheduled to open next year. The site has enough space to allow for the plant and its work force to double in size.

Goebel said the last two-shift operation is scheduled June 30. At that time, the 65-year-old plant will close for model changeover. When production resumes July 17, there will be only one shift.

At that time, GM will boost its first shift van production by 11.1 percent to 50 vans per hour from 45.

Plant's long-term future

The plant spokesman said there is no change in the plant's long-term future. Production of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans will continue until the third quarter of 2003.

After that, Goebel said, "the market will determine the plant's future."

GM has consistently declined to discuss sales or production numbers for the rear-wheel and all-wheel drive vans, which have not undergone a major redesign since production began at Broening Highway in 1984. In November, the company said it might rethink eliminating the second shift if demand for the vehicles picked up.

State officials are still hopeful of persuading GM to bring a new product to Baltimore.

Tentative meeting May 5

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, has tentatively scheduled a May 5 meeting, in Annapolis, with top GM executives, including G. Richard Wagoner, president, and Thomas J. David, head of GM's Truck Group. The meeting is to discuss Baltimore's automotive future.

Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the state delegation, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would use the session to encourage GM to upgrade the Broening Highway plant or to build an assembly plant on another site.

Lewin said no other project is more important to the economic development of the state than having GM commit to a new plant.

Economists estimate that the GM plant, Baltimore's largest manufacturing employer, pumps about $1 billion into the regional economy each year.

The economic impact does not end at the plant's gates.

Ten other Maryland-based manufacturing plants supply a wide variety of parts, including seats, frame structures and dashboards to the GM plant.

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