GM and union agree on pact to end strike at minivan plant


About 3,200 striking workers at the sprawling General Motors Corp. minivan assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore are expected to return to their jobs Monday.

Company and union negotiators reached a tentative agreement yesterday afternoon on contract language that could end a four-week strike at the city's largest manufacturing employer and send a steady stream of Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans on their way to dealers nationwide in a matter of days.

The Baltimore plant is the sole producer of the vans, and some dealers have reported shortages of certain models.

Both sides said that the agreement came at 2:39 p.m. yesterday afternoon after 29 hours of non-stop bargaining. The marathon session followed two days in which there were no formal talks between the two sides and there was growing concern on the part of workers and suppliers to the plant that the strike could last much longer.

Rank-and-file members of the United Auto Workers Local 239, who have been trying to balance their family budgets on $100-a-week strike benefit checks, are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. today at Essex Community College to vote on the pact worked out by negotiators.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the membership will ratify the agreement," said Rodney A. Trump, president of the local. "There is no doubt in my mind that they will return to work in full force on Monday."

Mr. Trump said that some workers would likely return to the job tomorrow to prepare the plant for a resumption of production.

The GM workers walked off the job June 24, complaining about safety in the plant. Mr. Trump said that the strike was over "human rights issues." He claimed that the company's elimination of about 400 jobs in February left too much work for those still on the job and an environment where injuries rose rapidly.

Mr. Trump asserted that injuries had reached "record levels."

The work force reduction was accompanied by an slowdown of the assembly line that reduced the number of vans being produced each hour to 42 from 47.

Although he declined to offer any details of the agreement, Mr. Trump said yesterday that "the issues of human rights . . . the issue of people being overworked resulting in injuries has been addressed in total by the General Motors Corp."

Mr. Trump expressed regret that the dispute resulted in a strike. "I think there has to be a better way in the collective-bargaining process to settle issues than going on strike. Each side loses in a strike," he said.

Terry Youngerman, the personnel manager at the GM plant and a member of management's bargaining committee, said that plant officials were "extremely happy to have successfully concluded this negotiation."

The agreement is also good news for a number of other regional companies that have been directly affected by the labor dispute.

As part of a nearly $300 million expansion and renovation of the plant back in the early 1980s, GM adopted a just-in-time inventory system that requires suppliers to make deliveries to the plant as parts are needed. A number of companies, including Marada Industries Inc., Monarch Manufacturing Inc., Johnson

Controls Inc. and A. O. Smith Automotive Products Inc. located plants in the region so that they could meet the tight delivery schedules.

Normally, some of these companies made six to eight deliveries to the GM plant each day. The suppliers felt the impact of the walkout almost immediately.

Monarch, a Belcamp company that makes --boards for the GM vans, was forced to lay off its 75 production workers the day after the strike began.

Two other Belcamp area companies -- Johnson Controls, a supplier of seats, and A. O. Smith, which makes a frame assembly used in the vehicles -- also either laid off workers or asked for voluntary layoffs.

Marada, a Westminster company that makes steel bumper and frame structures used on the vans, had about 30 workers off the job last week. Some took vacation, while other asked for voluntary layoffs, which allowed them to collect unemployment benefits.

General Motors claimed that the strike was over "productivity" issues. Mr. Youngerman said several weeks ago that the company was seeking to boost productivity at the local plant so that it could remain competitive with other domestic and foreign van manufacturing plants.

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