Schmoke leading effort to save GM plant


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke met with the top management and union officials of the General Motors Corp.'s Broening Highway minivan plant yesterday morning to begin formulating a strategy to ward off a potential shutdown of the city's largest manufacturing plant.

During a tour of the GM facility, the mayor said that he was "going to fight hard" to see that the plant, which employs about 3,700 workers, has a long future in Baltimore. The latest threat to the 56-year-old facility comes from the recently passed federal Clean Air Act.

The minivan produced here is scheduled for a major overhaul for the 1996 model year, and GM plans to decide in 1993 where the new van will be made. Officials at the plant, as well as state officials, are concerned that new pollution laws will put the facility at a disadvantage in bidding to produce the new van.

Baltimore, like a lot of other industrial northeastern cities, is classified as a non-attainment area, meaning that it cannot meet current environmental standards, Earl Shiflett, director of plant engineering, explained.

The new laws, could present two problems, he said. First, any change in the production process leading to an increase in emissions at one part of the plant will have to be offset at another part. In addition, there must be a net reduction in emissions.

Baltimore would be in competition with rural areas, or even other countries, that don't have non-attainment problems, Mr. Shiflett said. "It puts us at a disadvantage."

Rodney Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers, which represents the plant's hourly workers, said that "a GM pullout of Baltimore would have a more devastating blow on the economy than anyone could imagine." The plant contributed $1 billion to the area economy last year, including $800 million spent on purchases from local suppliers.

Mr. Trump said that he's concerned about the environment, "but I'm also concerned about our workers here. You can starve to death faster than you can be killed by the environment."

"We all recognize that a few years down the road, General Motors has to make some tough decisions about Baltimore," said Mayor Schmoke. "We just want to let them know that government here -- state and local government -- is supportive of this plant and will do all that we can to help it remain competitive."

The mayor said the state's congressional delegation also is looking for a possible solution to the Baltimore plant's dilemma.

And Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to meet with GM officials soon, according to Mark Wasserman, his executive assistant. Mr. Wasserman said the governor is working on a "strong collaborative package with hopes of getting GM to recommit to Baltimore."

GM has not said the plant here will be closed. Its position is that Baltimore is high on the list of contender plants to build the restyled van.

But Kari Halsey, a spokeswoman for GM's Truck and Bus Group in Detroit, has said in the past that the division also will be looking at other sites for the work.

Robert Rieman, general manager of the GM plant, said that he was encouraged by the mayor's visit. "All too often, we wait until too long or until it's too late do something. It's good that we're getting an early start on this."

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