A recent “Adviser/Steward Bulletin” for employees of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant notes that trash compactor production will end by March, and side-by-side refrigerator production will continue “through the end of June, but that is subject to change.”
Also part of the bulletin was a statement from the United Steelworkers (USW) saying “it will make every effort to persuade Whirlpool Corp. to reverse” its decision to close the Fort Smith plant.
Officials with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. announced Oct. 27 they would close the Fort Smith plant by mid-2012. The closure will mark the end of more than 45 years of Whirlpool operations in Fort Smith.
The loss of the about 1,000 Whirlpool jobs in Fort Smith will result in the overall loss of 1,550 jobs and a labor income reduction of $56.9 million, according to an economic impact model prepared by Gregory Hamilton, senior research economist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for The City Wire.
The future of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator-production plant has been in doubt for almost 8 years. In November 2003, the company announced a global restructuring plan that included moving some production from Fort Smith to plants in Mexico. Whirlpool has announced numerous production changes that have seen employment in Fort Smith drop from about 4,600 in early 2006 to around 1,000 today.
The bulletin provides the first, albeit scant, detail on when production will end at the plant. Built-in-refrigerator (BIR) production may also run through the end of June.
The bulletin, which comes with a clear caveat that all schedules are subject to change, shows trash compactor and BIR production “ramping up” on Nov. 28, with Dec. 19-21 added as production days.
Production on the side-by-side refrigerator will drop by 300 units a day on Jan. 16, but a previously announced layoff will not happen.
The USW letter notes that it is working with Whirlpool to negotiate a “fair severance program for nearly 900 active hourly workers and another 800 who are laid off and eligible for recall.”
“We can’t accept defeat without putting up a fight,” Local 370 President Rick Nemeth said in this union statement. “We will turn over every stone in looking for opportunities to save the plant and the family-supporting jobs it has long provided in this community.”
While saying it will work with Whirlpool to keep the plant open, the USW letter also takes aim at Whirlpool’s decision to cuts costs. The letter notes that during the cutback announcements Whirlpool reported third-quarter net income of $177 million, more than double the same period in 2010.
The letter also cites the previous years in which labor and management worked together at the plant to lower costs. The union asserts that the cost-cutting was never enough for Whirlpool.
“Productive workers are paying the price for a profitable company seeking higher returns. Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Fettig said the cutbacks, on the heels of previously-announced price increases, should save $400 million a year, expand operating margins and improve shareholder value,” noted the USW letter.
Continuing, the USW wrote: “Ironically, in the same announcement, Whirlpool said it was inducted into the Made in the USA Foundation’s Hall of Fame during the quarter. The foundation recognizes companies that contribute to American manufacturing, labor and environmental standards, job creation in the United States and promotion of American-made products.”
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.