Picket lines went up today around the General Motors Corp. van plant in southeast Baltimore after talks broke off between union and management representatives attempting to avert a strike by more than 3,200 employees.
hope to resolve this as quickly as possible," Terry Youngerman, a GM spokesman, said today, after the walkout.
He said more than 30 negotiators began discussions at the Broening Highway plant at 6 a.m. over what union representatives charge are unsafe working conditions.
Rodney Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers, said the union would have preferred no strike but it was "GM's call."
Just minutes after 10 a.m., workers carrying their lunch boxes emerged from the employee entrance and left the parking lot on Broening Highway, many blowing their car horns. About a dozen stayed behind to carry picket signs.
The reason for the strike was the failure of the plant's management to recognize employee problems, said Trump, who left the plant about 45 minutes after the strike began.
"They're overworked, they've been injured, they've haven't been given time off for vacation and the company won't honor the last agreement," he said.
The union and company have been talking for the last few weeks and official negotiations began about five days ago, Youngerman said.
The problems, however, go back to February, when several hundred workers were laid off. Youngerman put the number of laid-off workers at about 300. Trump said it was 200 on each of the plant's two shifts.
Trump said the main issue is safety, due to the lack of workers.
Though all the laid-off workers have been rehired on a permanent or a temporary basis to fill in for other workers on vacation, the overall work force is down by about 300 workers, the company said.
The company has reduced the production speed on the assembly line from 47 to 42 vans an hour, but the union contends workers still are being asked to do too much, creating an unsafe work place.
Trump said that since February, about 300 workers have reported injuries including back pain, wrist ailments and cuts on the job because of the work load. The injury rate is 10 times the number of injuries before the job eliminations, he said.
Trump said the union will strike until a number of temporary workers are reclassified as permanent employees. There also has been a dispute over vacation requests by employees denied time off because the company claims it would leave the plant short-staffed, he said.
The strike is the first at the plant since 1970.
Trump blamed today's walkout on the plant's relatively new management. "Before, we always had a management we could do business with," he said.
In April 1989, Bob Rieman took over as plant manager.
GM refused to comment on the issues involved in the strike. But both sides said today's walkout was "businesslike" and no incidents of sabotage or violence were reported.
Vans made at the plant are Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari models, Trump said.