Kenny Thompson, division vice president for Whirlpool and manager of the Fort Smith plant, noted in an Oct. 27 statement that union and management at the plant were like family and should “support each other in the weeks and months ahead.”
Just a few weeks later, the family is fighting.
The United Steelworkers Local 370 has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Whirlpool Corp. is violating terms of a labor contract.
Officials with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. announced Oct. 27 they would close the Fort Smith plant by mid-2012. The closure will result in the loss of about 1,000 jobs. The company employed around 4,600 in Fort Smith during early 2006. The closure will mark the end of more than 45 years of Whirlpool operations in Fort Smith.
Following the announcement, Whirlpool and union officials began to negotiate, within terms of the existing labor contract, the terms of employee payments and benefits related to the plant closure.
Whirlpool employees in Fort Smith received Dec. 1 an “Effects Update” that outlined “separation benefits” the company will offer hourly and salaried employees. The update included the first signs of conflict between Whirlpool and Local 370 officials.
“The union has not presented the company with its list of issues for Effects Bargaining yet, nor let the company know when it is willing to get back together,” noted the update memo from Whirlpool.
Union officials asserted that Whirlpool was not providing requested information.
Whirlpool recently sent separation information notices and money in some cases to up to 954 employees. The payments were based on terms Whirlpool outlined in the Dec. 1 memo, and not on terms negotiated between the company and the union.
Union officials, according to a source, allege that Whirlpool is going outside the previously negotiated contract to dictate the terms of separation payments. If true, such action would be a violation of federal labor law.
Stacia Campbell, the resident officer in the NLRB’s Little Rock office, confirmed that Local 370 on Dec. 22 filed a charge against Whirlpool. Campbell could not disclose contents of the filing, but instead directed requests for that information to the NLRB regional office in Memphis.
Repeated attempts to seek comment from Whirlpool officials have been unsuccessful. The City Wire has left messages with the NLRB and the local union office to seek a copy of the complaint.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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