Saturn production facing strike threat


LORDSTOWN, Ohio -- Saturn dealers and General Motors officials have their eyes on Lordstown, where a strike deadline looming today threatens to halt production of the GM showpiece.

"Saturn will die immediately -- all its small stampings are in Lordstown," said James Harbour, an industry analyst.

A United Auto Workers five-day strike letter is about to expire. About 2,300 Lordstown stamping plant workers will walk out if various labor issues remain unresolved.

"We do operate on a 'just in time' system -- we depend on incoming parts," said Bill Betts, a spokesman for Saturn. "If that stops, we must stop building. It would significantly halt production if there is a work stoppage. We won't speculate how long it might take to affect us."

The strike would immediately cripple Lordstown-based production of the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunbird, and van production in Flint, Mich., and Scarborough, Ontario.

"If the strike lasts more than two or three days, it will get them all," Mr. Harbour said. The entire GM system, he said, would shut down.

Linda Cook, a spokeswoman for GM, said the company is hopeful that the UAW and the company can reach an agreement by today.

Negotiators for General Motors and UAW Local 1714 in Lordstown left the bargaining table Tuesday with such issues as work pace, the closing of a tool-and-die shop and air quality still separating them.

GM, which lost $8 billion in North American vehicle sales last year, has said it will trim 74,000 jobs by 1995, including 240 jobs at the tool-and-die operation in Lordstown.

With these proposed job cuts, Mr. Harbour said, the rift at UAW Local 1714 may go far beyond Lordstown. "It's a UAW national issue," he said.

But striking Lordstown is strategic, he said. "They are shutting down Saturn," he said. "One hundred percent of the small-car production will get hit immediately."

And by targeting the 2-year-old Saturn, the union is taking direct aim at one of GM's most prized car lines.

"They'd be taking one of GM's best-performing lines off the market," said Michael Bowyer, an industry analyst with Duff & Phelps in Chicago. "Saturn does not make or break GM, but halting production there will hurt the company a bit."

Saturn has about 200 retail shops nationwide.

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