Negotiators for the General Motors Corp.'s minivan plant in Southeast Baltimore and representatives of the United Auto Workers Union are scheduled to return to the bargaining table this morning in hopes of ending a walkout affecting about 3,200 GM assembly-line workers and many other factory employees around the state who make products used to build the vehicles.
At 10 a.m. yesterday, a union official blew a whistle, marking the deadline for a settlement of a dispute primarily over safety at the Broening Highway plant. Within seconds, the normal clatter of the assembly line went quiet as first-shift workers left their posts, grabbed their lunch boxes and walked out.
"GM felt that the problems of our people and our concern about their safety were not real," Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239, said as he emerged from the plant yesterday morning following a breakdown in talks. "Their bottom-line profit was all they could see."
Mr. Trump explained that the dispute dates back to February, when GM cut the number of minivans rolling off the assembly line to 42 units per hour from 47. At that time, he said, the company eliminated more than 400 jobs.
The union contends that the company eliminated too many jobs for those left on the line to perform their work safely.
Mr. Trump said that injuries have reached a record high since February as overworked employees have struggled to keep pace with the moving assembly line. "There have been more than 300 injuries since February," Mr. Trump said. "This is more than 10 times the normal [injury] rate."
He said the injuries included cuts, wrist problems linked to repetitive motions, and back injuries from falls.
GM has declined to comment on the issues of the strike that has closed the city's largest manufacturing complex and threatened the jobs of others at companies that supply components to the complex. However, Terry Youngerman, a GM spokesman, expressed hope that the two sides would reach a settlement quickly.
Jeffrey Testerman, manager of manufacturing at Monarch Manufacturing Inc., a company in Belcamp that produces --boards and some other components used in the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, said that about 80 workers were sent home early yesterday as GM stopped taking shipments.
In an effort to reduce the amount of money that it would have tied up in inventory, GM adopted a just-in-time inventory policy in the early 1980s that has its suppliers delivering parts only as they are needed.
Mr. Testerman said that the Harford County company normally made six deliveries to the GM plant each work day. The GM plant is Monarch's only customer, and Mr. Testerman said the company might be forced to lay off workers in the next few days if the strike was not settled.
Johnson Controls Inc., a Belcamp company that makes seats for the minivans, is also faced with laying off at least some of its work force. "We're shut down right now," Dennis Sisolak, manager of the plant, said yesterday afternoon.
He was referring to the production of seats that accounts for about 85 percent of the company's output. Johnson also produces parts used in building Honda, Chrysler and Volkswagen vehicles.
Mr. Sisolak said that workers sent home yesterday morning were allowed to use their vacation time so that their pay checks would not be affected at the end of the week.
At Marada Industries, a company near Westminster that makes body components for the van, Daniel Quickel, assistant general manager, said that the company believes it can get by for two weeks before curtailing work among its 190 workers.
At the GM plant, Carol McArdle, who was picketing, said that she didn't like walking the sidewalk for $100 a week in strike benefits but felt that it was time "to fight for our rights."
Mrs. McArdle, a mother of two who came to Baltimore in October after she lost a job when GM closed an assembly plant in Framingham, Mass., said that she was "constantly running, jumping into one van, then another," as she tried to keep pace with the moving line while installing windows in the vehicles.
"They just keep adding more to your job, and people can't keep up with it," she said.
About two hours into the strike, the brakes apparently gave way on an auto carrier loaded with vans at the Anchor Motor Freight Inc. complex across Holabird Avenue from the plant. The vehicle drifted down the hill, crashed through a wire-link fence and jumped the curb before coming to a halt in the middle of the street.
Police Sgt. Joseph Shaw of the Southeastern District said the accident was unrelated to the strike.