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Whirlpool is shutting its Evansville, IN refrigerator plant at the end of this week, eliminating 1,100 jobs at a factory that has been a mainstay in Indiana since 1956. According to a report in Sunday’s New York Times, the appliance maker plans to move its refrigerator manufacturing to Mexico.
At the Evansville plant’s peak in 1973, the facility employed nearly 10,000, with hourly wages approaching $20. One 17-year veteran of the Whirlpool production line expressed the bitterness of many employees when the company announced it’s decision.
“This country made Whirlpool what it is,” Connie Brasel, who made thermal liners for refrigerators, told the Times. “They didn’t get world-class quality because they had the best managers. They got world-class quality because of the U.S. and their workers. And now they want to pack up and move to Mexico. I find it offensive.”
After the announcement, the International Union of Electrical Workers put up a billboard in Whirlpool’s headquarter’s city, Benton Harbor, MI, reading “Shame on Whirlpool for building a new plant in Mexico to take good-paying jobs our of the U.S. during our nation’s tough economic times.”
Whirlpool officials defended the move, saying the factory was undercut by high costs and underused capacity. Jody Lau, a Whirlpool spokeswoman, said the plant was “uncompetitive from a cost standpoint” and that Whirlpool is “always looking for ways to improve its operating efficiencies to help it stay competitive.” Ms. Lau also noted that the company still will maintain 20,000 of its 67,000 global employees in the U.S., including 300 research and development jobs in Evansville.
Ironically, Whirlpool is shutting the Evansville plant at the same time that competitor General Electric is expanding its appliance operations in Louisville, KY, about 100 miles to the northeast. GE is hiring 420 workers to build hybrid water heaters now made in China.