Workers at a General Motors Corp. plant that supplies transmissions to 16 other factories, including one in Baltimore, authorized a strike yesterday -- the second time in a month that the United Auto Workers has threatened to cripple production at the nation's biggest automaker by cutting off the flow of parts.
In a vote of 2,596 to 106, members of UAW Local 14, at the Toledo, Ohio, power train plant, gave the union's leaders the OK to call a strike if there is a breakdown in negotiations with the company over safety, production speedups and overtime.
Late last month, a two-day strike at an Anderson, Ind., taillight and bumper factory shut down 13 assembly plants around the country, and almost shut down the Baltimore plant, as workers ran out of parts needed to finish vehicles.
Linda Cook, a spokeswoman for the GM van assembly plant at Broening Highway in East Baltimore, noted that the authorization vote is a preliminary step, and doesn't mean a strike will occur.
"This is a formality the union has to go through in negotiations," she said, adding that it also doesn't mean the two sides have reached an impasse.
Ms. Cook would not comment on the vote's potential impact on the 3,600 workers at the Baltimore plant, who have been working overtime and Saturdays to turn out 20,000 Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans a month.
But Rodney Trump, president of Baltimore UAW Local 239, said that the local plant receives almost all of its transmissions from Toledo, and that Baltimore keeps very few parts in inventory.
Besides last month's near closing, the Baltimore plant was shut down for nine days in 1992 because of shortages caused by a strike at a Lordstown, Ohio, parts factory.
Mr. Trump said yesterday's vote wouldn't have any immediate effect on the Baltimore plant, since he expected the Toledo local to negotiate with GM for several more weeks.
And the two sides may resolve their dispute without a strike. "I don't think they have insurmountable problems," he said.
But he confirmed the union is addressing local and national problems by focusing on plants which, if shut down, can be disproportionately painful to GM.
GM is vulnerable to strikes at parts plants because it uses a "just-in-time" inventory system. It keeps very few supplies on hand, and relies on daily -- and sometimes even hourly -- delivery of parts.
Mr. Trump said he's noticed that the union is returning to "strategic planning targets" -- instead of mass strikes favored a decade ago.