General Motors Corp. is seeking to boost daily production of its popular midsize vans made here by 6 percent with no increase in employment, a move that union officials say could lead to a strike at the city's largest manufacturing employer.
"We hope that a strike can be avoided this time," said Rodney A. Trump, president of Local 239 of the United Auto Workers union, which represents about 3,200 hourly workers at the Broening Highway plant.
He said that the crucial question for the UAW was whether "the company provides the proper number of people to do the job safely and to maintain the quality of the product."
The last time GM altered the production line speed at the Baltimore plant -- it cut production from 47 to 42 vans an hour in the summer of 1991 -- the union struck for four weeks, halting production. At that time the union claimed that the company eliminated too many jobs to operate safely, leading to a sharp jump in the number of work-related injuries.
To settle the strike, GM agreed to increase the number of production workers immediately and add new assembly line workers as the line speed rose to 48 vans an hour.
Linda Cook, a spokeswoman for GM truck platforms division in Pontiac, Mich., said the boost in production is necessary to meet increased demand for the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans. The Baltimore plant is the sole supplier of these vehicles.
Ms. Cook said the company has no plans to add new workers. She said the company is seeking productivity gains through increased efficiencies and manufacturing improvements.
The test could come as early as next week.
"We go to full speed on Monday and we could know within 72 hours if we can do it safely," said Mr. Trump. "That's how long it takes to feel the impact" of a line speed change, he said.
The plan is to boost the number of vans rolling off the assembly line each hour from 48 to 51.
In other moves designed to satisfy consumer demand, Mr. Trump said, workers at the Baltimore plant have been working two hours overtime of both daily shifts since the beginning of September and the company is scheduling Saturday production in the weeks ahead.