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8/28/2009 2:07:00 PM
Whirlpool will close Evansville plant in 2010, move production to Mexico
An aerial picture of the plant, taken in 1972.
An aerial picture of the plant, taken in 1972.

1956: Whirlpool Corp. comes to Evansville by buying three refrigerator factories, previously owned by Servel, Seeger-Sunbeam and International Harvester. The last had its plant in the 5400 block of U.S. 41 North, where Whirlpool is today.

1970: A strike prompts Whirlpool to hire more workers to prevent a decline in production. The total number of company employees in Evansville approaches 9,900.

1975: Whirlpool stops production at its factory on Franklin Street after the demand for the gas refrigerators made there falls off.

1984: After another strike, Whirlpool decides to end production at its factory on Morgan Avenue. The factory had made air conditioners, dehumidifiers and compressors.

1989: Employment at Whirlpool in Evansville falls to about 1,990 wage workers and 600 salary workers largely, in part because of competition.

1994: Concessions by Whirlpool workers help the company to return its local work force to around 5,000 employees for a brief time.

1996: Whirlpool reduces its work force by nearly half.

2006: Whirlpool announces it will lay off more than 500 workers at the Evansville factory. The company blames a falling demand for its chief product - refrigerators made with the freezer unit mounted on top. The work force is numbered at around 1,500 employees.

October 2008: Whirlpool announces it will reduce its work force by 5,000 positions by 2009. Those include 500 salaried positions in North America. A spokeswoman said nearly all Whirlpool factories will be affected but declined to give details.

February 2009: Whirlpool and its employees reach a new three-year contract, averting a strike. The company agreed to keep a pension, though freezing it, rather than offer an enhanced 401(k) plan. The agreement also included pay raises and a new plan for health insurance.

July 2009: Whirlpool announces it wants to lay off between 80 and 100 employees and asks for volunteers to step forward. Earlier in the week, the company reported a profit of $78 million for the second quarter of 2009, which was down 33 percent from the $117 million the company had reported for the same period a year ago.

Aug. 28, 2009: Whirlpool says it will close Evansville plant, eliminating 1,100 jobs. The production will move to Mexico

Evansville Courier & Press

Evansville Courier & Press staff report

Evansville's Whirlpool factory, which has employed several generations of Tri-Staters and once gave backing to the city's claim as "Refrigerator Capital of the World," will close next year, leaving at least 1,100 people unemployed as production moves to Mexico.

Whirlpool hourly employees Toni Bryant, left, Nancy McFedtridge, middle, and Patricia Sandefur expressed shock to the shutdown news as they left the plant Friday. "I love my job at Whirlpool...I didn't think it was leaving me," Sandefur said tearfully.

Employees were informed of the decision in a meeting this morning with Al Holaday, the company's vice president for North American Manufacturing Operations. The workers were then sent home for the day, with pay, to mull the future.

Jill Saletta, a spokeswoman for Whirlpool, said the plant will close in "mid-2010," though no firm date has been set.

Company officials cited global economic conditions as well as a decline in demand for the freezer-topped refrigerators produced here as reasons for closure of the 1.7-million-square-foot factory.

It was news that stunned many of the workers, though the company has been steadily shaving jobs over the past few years.

"I've kind of just felt personally like it was coming," said Paul Britt, a 32-year-old Henderson, Ky., native who has worked for the company since 2001. "A lot of the old-timers, people who have been here for a while, they've been saying for 50 years this place was going to Mexico ... but nobody really believes it."

Britt, who said he makes $16.79 per hour working on the production line, called his wife from the meeting "as soon as I heard the word 'closure'."

"I called her before she heard about it from someone else," he said.

Still in limbo are 300 other jobs, as Whirlpool determines what to do with a related development center also housed at the facility.

During the meeting, each employee was given a handout sheet that offered reasons for the closure.

"It is a with a heavy heart that we announced the decision to close our Evansville plant," the handout reads. "This business decision is the result of a global study and is not a reflection of our employees or their work performance."

The handout said the closure would occur in phases, with completion in mid-2010.

One employee, 46-year-old Robert Gross of Mount Carmel, Ill., said employees had heard rumors that the plant would close for many years, but that employees were still stunned and upset that the company is moving the jobs to Mexico.

"You guys are making a lot of money, but you guys are sending our jobs to Mexico. It's just not right." Gross said he told a company official.

It will be, by far, the largest blow the current recession has dealt to Southwestern Indiana's economic infrastructure. Vanderburgh and its neighboring counties had been affected less than counties farther north in the state. As of July, unemployment in Vanderburgh County stood at 8.2 percent, while most counties in northern Indiana were well into double digits.

Related Stories:
• Bloomington's GE plant to stay open, but 190 of its 720 workers will be laid off
• Evansville's Whirlpool suppliers have holes to fill
• Vanderburgh County taxes will be impacted by Whirlpool closure
• Evansville puts 2-step plan into action to deal with Whirlpool closing
• Shutdown of Evansville plant will cost Whirlpool $51 million
• Officials submit incentives to retain 300 Whirlpool workers in Evansville

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