GM to close van plant on Monday for a week


General Motors Corp. said yesterday that it will close its Baltimore van assembly plant for a week beginning Monday and lay off approximately 1,000 workers.

It will mark the plant's second shutdown this year due to slow sales of the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans it produces.

Workers began the new year on a layoff that was originally scheduled for eight days but was extended an additional week.

The plant closed Jan. 2, and workers did not return to their jobs until Jan. 21. That closing and next week's were designed to bring plant production into line with market demand for the Astro and Safari, according to Dan Flores, a spokesman for GM's Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich., which has jurisdiction over the Baltimore plant.

Flores said Astro sales were off 41.5 percent in January, totaling 2,814 compared with 4,810 in January 2001.

Safari sales were off even more sharply. According to Flores, Safari sales totaled 780 last month, down 53.1 percent from January last year.

"Plant closings are not unique to Baltimore," Flores said, noting that GM has shut down 14 of its 29 North American assembly plants for at least a week so far this year.

He said that, while truck sales have been good overall with strong sales of pickups and sport utility vehicles, some segments of the market have suffered.

Flores listed the company's van plant here, as well as others in Linden, N.J., Janesville, Wis., and Doraville, Ga., as among the factories that have been closed this year because of slow sales.

Lee Dorsey, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents the hourly workers at the Baltimore plant, said that with unemployment benefits and company payments, laid-off employees will receive 95 percent of their take-home pay next week.

Next week's closing of the assembly plant likely also will have an impact on regional companies that supply parts to the vans, including Johnson Controls Inc. of Belcamp.

Johnson, which makes seats for the Astro and Safari, could not be reached for comment yesterday. When the Baltimore van plant closed earlier this year, Johnson laid 52 of its 213 workers.

General Motors continues to say that production of Astro and Safari will continue until at least the third quarter of next year. Beyond that date, the company says, market demand for the vans will determine the plant's future.

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