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GM plant shut till Tuesday Slow van sales prompt move idling 3,100; Auto industry


General Motors Corp. closed its van assembly plant in Baltimore yesterday and said it will remain shut until Tuesday because of slow vehicle sales.

The shutdown, the second this year and the third in eight months, idled 3,100 workers at the city's largest manufacturing employer and forced layoffs or other production adjustments at area companies producing parts for the GM vans.

Kerry Christopher, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich., which has jurisdiction over the Baltimore plant, said the closing was done to "adjust inventory," an industry term that refers to declining sales.

He said there would very likely be more plant closings later this year, but no dates have been set.

Sales of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari, the two vans that are made at the Broening Highway plant, totaled 174,815 units last year, down 5.4 percent from the previous year.

Sales have dropped more sharply since the start of this year. Chevrolet has sold 33,567 Astro vans since the first of the year, according to Automotive News, an industry trade publication. This is 16 percent below sales during the same period of 1997.

Sales of the Safari dropped 6.75 percent over the same period, to 11,257.

Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the hourly workers at the GM plant, said Astro and Safari sales have suffered in recent years because the vans have not undergone a major redesign since their introduction in 1984.

Other companies in the metropolitan area that supply parts to the Broening Highway plant will also be forced to alter their production schedules. At least two have laid off workers.

"We operate on a just-in-time inventory system and we had to shut down when they shut down," said Joseph Schriefer, manager of Monarch Manufacturing Inc. plant in Belcamp.

Schriefer said the closing resulted in the layoff of the plant's 106 hourly workers. He said 24 workers would be kept busy this week cleaning and performing plant maintenance.

Monarch manufactures the dashboards, center consoles and other interior components used in the vans.

Jack Spangler, a spokesman for Marada Industries Inc. in Westminster, said the company was forced to eliminate a production shift at one of its two parts production plants. He said workers were offered a voluntary layoff and 30 of them accepted.

The Carroll County company has 450 workers. In addition to making the steel structural parts it ships to GM's Broening Highway plant, Marada manufactures parts for several other GM plants and for Honda, Ford, Chrysler and Jeep.

GM last closed its Baltimore plant the week of Feb. 18. In September 1997, the plant was down for two weeks because of declining sales. Under terms of its contract with the union, GM will add to its workers' unemployment checks to provide about 95 percent of their normal take-home pay.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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