Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, reports that employment conditions at the Whirlpool plant in Fort Smith could worsen beyond recently announced layoffs:
Whirlpool employee Fred Denny and an unnamed source say the company will lay off about 300 people by January at its Fort Smith refrigeration plant with plans to close the large plant by July.
Officials with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. confirmed in late July the loss of 65 jobs at the plant. The City Wire estimates that employment at the plant is about 950 hourly workers and about 85 salaried workers.
Fred Denny, an employee at Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant for 34 years, told The City Wire that employees in the quality control section and tube shop were told Thursday (Aug. 11) that about 40 salaried workers would be cut by January — 25 in October and 15 in January — and 200-250 hourly jobs would be cut in January.
More alarming is that Denny said the employees were told the plant would likely shut down by July.
“No, not after this. Not after today,” Denny, 62, said when asked if he would be surprised if the plant closed. “I’ve been expecting this. We’ve been hearing rumors about this for months.”
A second source independently confirmed the numbers Denny provided, to include information that the plant will cut production to just 550 refrigerators a day by January.
“They are getting ready with that (job cuts) in January because they have to give employees six months notice that they are going to close the plant. This way, they can run it and make a few products for a few months and then they don’t have to give severance pay when they close,” Denny explained.
Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, a former Whirlpool employee, said based on what he has been told about production changes the company is not planning to close by July.
“I don’t think that’s true. You might want to talk to them (Whirlpool officials) before you go with your story,” Sanders said late Thursday.
Whirlpool spokeswoman Kristine Vernier did not comment on speculation about a plant closure, but did provide this statement late Thursday: “As part of our annual planning process, Whirlpool Corporation communicated internally today at Fort Smith that projected demand for side-by-side refrigerators continues to decline. It was further communicated that this reduced volume, along with recent softening of the economy, could possibly result in layoffs of up to 250 hourly and 20 salaried employees at this location in the coming year. While no decisions have been finalized we understand how difficult this information is during these uncertain times and strive to share information with our employees as we continue the planning process.”
Whirlpool noted in its second quarter earnings report that the company’s U.S. appliance shipments would decline by 1%-2% in 2011. The previous guidance was that U.S. shipments in 2011 would increase by as much as 3%.
And in a July 27 statement, Vernier said the company was cutting production in Fort Smith because U.S. appliance demand “is at recessionary levels.”
Primarily the result of the housing-sector induced national recession, Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool made production cuts and layoffs causing employment in Fort Smith to drop from about 4,600 in early 2006 to less than around 1,100 today. In 2010, the company cut about 850 jobs at its Fort Smith operation, which left the employee count at 1,020 hourly and 110 salaried workers at the end of November.
The global appliance maker employs about 67,000 around the world and posted $18.4 billion in revenue during 2010.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this story. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.