Broening plant to resume work in two weeks 500 GM workers already back doing routine maintenance; Auto industry


General Motors Corp.'s van assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore, idled by two-month strikes elsewhere, will resume production Aug. 17, the company announced yesterday.

That's about two weeks later than GM factories in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Delaware, Louisiana and Missouri, a delay that results from routine but needed maintenance and has nothing to do with uncertainty about the plant's future, a local union official said.

"We're certainly happy that they reached an agreement, and, yes, we're happy to go back to work," said Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents about 3,000 workers at the factory. "Now we're hoping to get back in there and produce quality vehicles and get some interest so that we can keep the place here for a long time."

About 500 workers are at the assembly plant on Broening Highway, doing the maintenance that didn't get done while the workers were furloughed. The first day back for most of the rest of the workers will be Aug. 17, Alfred said.

Company officials could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

GM workers in Flint, Mich., began returning to work Thursday after overwhelmingly approving a contract that ended two damaging two-month strikes against the country's No. 1 automaker.

Analysts say the labor agreements will not achieve the kind of cost savings or worker flexibility needed for GM to reverse its market-share slide. But the settlements were good news -- at least in the near term -- for the Baltimore plant.

The Baltimore GM plant makes the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, which are to be replaced by a new design, possibly to be built overseas. GM Chairman and Chief Executive John F. Smith Jr. told state officials last week that the factory will operate for at least two more years, and Alfred said he interpreted that to mean that the company is open to negotiations that would keep it open longer.

The Baltimore plant is known for its sound labor-management relations and for higher productivity than in some of the company's other factories.

If the replacement truck is a "world" vehicle -- meaning there is one version for many markets -- onlookers theorize that the proximity of Baltimore's port could make the Broening Highway factory an attractive place to build it.

Keeping the Baltimore plant open for years to come is an "ongoing project," Alfred said.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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