GM to shut here for a week

About 1,000 layoffs will start May 7 on Broening Highway

March 21, 2001|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

General Motors Corp. announced yesterday that it will close its Baltimore van assembly plant for one week in May, temporarily laying off about 1,000 workers.

"We will be down for just five days, basically to bring production at the Baltimore plant in line with market demand," said Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich., which has jurisdiction over the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari van assembly plant on Broening Highway.

The shutdown is scheduled to begin May 7. Workers are slated to return to their jobs May 14.

The closing will affect about two-thirds of the plant's 1,500 workers, according to Brian Goebel, a spokesman for the city's largest manufacturing employer.

Goebel said about 500 employees will stay on the job. He described them as salaried employees, maintenance people and production workers needed to keep the plant ready to resume operating.

Flores said that truck sales have been soft in recent months and that some assembly plants have been idled more often than the one here.

He said sales of the Astro in the first two months of the year were off nearly 35 percent from their level in 2000. Astro sales totaled 5,571 units during January and February.

Safari sales dropped even more. So far this year, dealers have sold only 3,687 Safari vans, a drop of 38.6 percent below the number sold in the first two months of last year.

The last shutdown of the Baltimore plant was two years ago.

On March 15, 1999, GM closed the plant for one week as part of a retooling to reduce van production by 10 percent. The plant's line speed was reduced from 50 vans per hour to 45, resulting in the layoff of 2,783 workers.

Flores said the plant now is scheduled to be down only one week, but hinted that another shutdown is possible. "At this time, we don't see any additional downtime, but we will continue to monitor the situation in Baltimore."

He said GM's truck group has been forced to close other factories throughout the country this year as a result of sluggish truck sales.

GM's S-10 pickup truck plant in Shreveport, La., was down the first three weeks of the year.

The medium-duty, commercial truck plant in Janesville, Wis., has been idle for two weeks. It is to be closed for another two weeks next month.

A full-size van plant in Wentzville, Mo., has been down for two weeks, and GM has eliminated the third shift at its full-size van plant in Pontiac.

The closing of the GM plant here will have a financial impact on regional companies that supply parts for the vans.

It was not clear yesterday how these suppliers will adjust to the van plant's shutdown.

"We have not been officially notified that the Baltimore plant will close," said Debra Lacey, a spokeswoman for Johnson Control Inc., which makes seats for the GM vans at a factory in Belcamp.

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