Workers at the General Motors plant in Southeast Baltimore will return to work a week later than planned from their winter holiday, joining five other plants putting employees on temporary layoff status early next year.
The decision to keep the plants closed an extra week was based on demand for the vehicles and other market conditions, said GM spokesman Dan Flores.
"These are market-driven decisions," Flores said yesterday. "Clearly, under ideal circumstances, we want to run every plant at maximum capacity."
Plans for the extended holiday closing come as the Baltimore plant is facing an uncertain future. Once a giant in Baltimore's manufacturing community, the plant is down to one shift from two and has declined from 7,000 workers about 30 years ago to about 1,100 employees.
The plant has faced temporary layoffs in the past: Last year, its regularly scheduled two-week summer shutdown was extended by three weeks, and in 2001, the plant closed for a week in May and another week in October. This year's holiday closing will last two weeks.
While the factory has been threatened for years with a permanent shutdown, it was the only major plant targeted for closing under a four-year contract that the company and the United Auto Workers agreed to last year. Sales of the Chevrolet Astros and GMC Safaris manufactured at the Baltimore facility have been dwindling, and GM hasn't made a commitment to the plant beyond next summer.
"The status of the plant has not changed," Flores said yesterday. "It's still scheduled to run production into the summer of '05. The company has not made any decisions on what's going to happen after that."
Walter Plummer, president of United Auto Workers Local 239 in Baltimore, which represents the GM workers, said the Christmas break closing this year will be extended to end Jan. 10 instead of Jan. 3. The holiday period begins Dec. 24.
The other plants scheduled for weeklong temporary layoffs are three in Michigan, one in Texas and one in Wisconsin.
Workers on temporary layoff generally receive 90 percent of take-home pay before taxes and are eligible for unemployment, Flores said. They also keep their medical benefits for the week, as negotiated in the UAW's contract with General Motors, he said. "No one's going to be left out in the cold, because they will be protected by the contract," Flores said.