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Workers say Stempel was 'scapegoat'


Edward Gunther feels that he has lost more than a boss.

In accepting the resignation of Robert C. Stempel as chairman and chief executive of General Motors Corp., the board of directors pulled the rug out from under perhaps the best person to turn the corporation around and steer it down the road to profitability, Mr. Gunther feels.

"Mr. Stempel was a different breed of man," said the 44-year-old worker at GM's minivan assembly plant on Broening Highway. "He wasn't a bean counter. He wasn't from the finance side of the company.

"He was an engineer and I think he better understood this business of making cars. It seemed like all the others understood was money," Mr. Gunther said, referring to past top executives of the company, who mostly rose through the ranks of finance.

Mr. Gunther said Mr. Stempel, who succeeded Roger Smith as chairman in August 1990, was not given enough freedom to address the automaker's problems. "He inherited a lot of problems and he was not given the opportunity or the power to take care of the business. He was the scapegoat. That's what I believe."

Mr. Gunther's comments echoed the thoughts expressed by a handful of other workers at the local minivan assembly plant, which employs about 3,000 workers.

Farley Yerby, a 52-year-old repairman, said his first reaction to the change of command at GM was: "What's going to happen to the Baltimore plant? That's my main concern."

Mr. Yerby said he felt more comfortable about the future of the Baltimore plant with Mr. Stempel at the helm. He's not certain how a new CEO will view Baltimore.

Thelma Addison, who has put in more than 20 years at the Southeast Baltimore minivan plant, said she didn't feel that the GM executive was given adequate time on the job for people to properly judge his performance. "He wasn't in there long enough to tell what he was going to do."

"I don't think they gave him a fair chance to do anything," agreed Mary Cook, a 20-year veteran at the local plant.

"One of the raps on Mr. Stempel was that he was soft on unions," said Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers. "I don't think that was true."

Mr. Trump had worked directly with Mr. Stempel during the late 1980s on the closing of a GM parts distribution center in Jessup. "I found him to be a man who worked at being fair. That's what I liked about him."

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