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GM sets layoff at White Marsh

The Baltimore Sun

More than half of the hourly workers at GM Powertrain's Baltimore Transmission plant will be temporarily furloughed due to a strike at a separate parts supplier that has forced General Motors Corp. to cut production at 19 of its plants, the company said yesterday.

The walkout at Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. means GM doesn't have axles for certain pickup trucks and SUVs. GM spun off American Axle in 1994 and makes up 80 percent of its business. About 27,000 GM workers nationwide are affected by the temporary production cuts.

At the GM plant in White Marsh, production of the Allison 1000 six-speed automatic transmission for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra is scheduled to be idled next week, affecting two crews or about 220 workers. The plant employs a total of 440 - including 375 hourly workers. It was unclear how long production will be pared at the plant.

The remaining workers in White Marsh will continue to build hybrid transmissions for the Chevrolet Tahoe, spokesman John Raut said. White Marsh supplies an Arlington, Texas, plant where the hybrid trucks are assembled. If the company stops all production at the Texas plant because of the strike, the remaining White Marsh workers would be affected.

"We're all hoping that it's over quickly so people can come back to work," Raut said.

Workers furloughed from GM's White Marsh plant will receive state unemployment benefits as well as supplemental pay from GM, which combined should equal about 85 percent of their take-home pay, Raut said. Their health benefits will stay intact, he said.

The strike could also idle production at a Chrysler plant in Newark, Del., a Chrysler LLC spokeswoman said, where some Maryland residents are employed. American Axle makes axles and related parts for the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen.

About 3,600 members of the United Auto Workers walked off the job at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York Feb. 26 after contract talks broke down. The union said the company is demanding wage reductions of up to $14 an hour and termination of future retiree and pension benefits. Company and union officials returned to the negotiating table yesterday.

The strike hasn't been all that bad for GM, said Jamie Kitman, New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine and U.S. editor of Top Gear, a British auto magazine. The nation's biggest carmaker has been able to tap inventory that has piled up because of flagging sales of large trucks, he said.

But if the strike does cost GM more money, expect the company to exert pressure on American Axle to reach an agreement with workers, said Alexander Edwards, president of the automotive consulting division at Los Angeles-based Strategic Vision Inc.

"I don't believe the strike will last long because neither GM nor the workers can afford it," Edwards said.

For customers, a prolonged strike may mean that they have less of a selection when they visit the dealer, Edwards said.

allison.connolly@baltsun.com

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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