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Baltimore plant dodges bullet but remains in the line of fire


When Henry Bert landed a well-paying job at the local GM assembly plant in 1966, he thought he was set for life.

Now, at the age of 45, the assembly line worker is not so sure there will be a General Motors plant in Baltimore for the rest of his career.

Like thousands of his co-workers at the Broening Highway minivan assembly plant, Mr. Bert was relieved to learn yesterday that Baltimore had escaped the company's latest round of plant closings.

Although Baltimore survived this time, Mr. Bert is worried about what's ahead.

GM's chairman, Robert Stempel, announced yesterday the closing of the Willow Run auto assembly plant outside Ypsilanti, Mich., and the plant at North Tarrytown, N.Y., which produces a plastic-body van. He said some casting, engine and component operations in three states and Ontario also would be closed.

The moves were part of a corporate restructuring that is expected to eliminate 74,000 jobs by 1995 and turn GM into a lean, mean competitor in the world auto industry.

Mr. Stempel's announcements came in a half-hour closed circuit television presentation that was shown at the Broening Highway plant and others across the country.

Mr. Bert said there was a collective sigh of relief when Baltimore was not mentioned, but there was compassion for workers in other parts of the country who will lose their jobs.

Edward Hobbs, another worker at the Baltimore plant, said his thoughts were on the GM workers "who will be out there trying to find another job to make a decent living."

Mr. Hobbs said the only verbal response to Mr. Stempel's comments came when the chairman disclosed that one small U.S. plant would be closed and replaced by a plant in Mexico. "It brought on a lot of groans," Mr. Hobbs said.

Mr. Stempel didn't say anything threatening about the future of the Baltimore plant, which employs about 3,500 workers, but neither did he offer any long-term security.

GM has said that, when the Chevrolet Safari and GMC Astro vans made here undergo a major restyling this decade, there is no guarantee that they will be made in Baltimore.

Without an extension of work done here now or a new product, Rodney A. Trump, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, said "the Baltimore plant would end up on the scrap heap."

Asked about the long-term future of the Baltimore plant, Terry Youngerman, a plant spokesman said: "That's a question we keep asking ourselves over and over."

"But anyone in their right mind can't project out into the future."

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