Whirlpool Plant Closing Brings Jobs to Amana

By George Ford, Reporter

A Workers who declined give his name walks out of the Whirlpool Amana Refrigeration Products plant during the afternoon shift change Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008 in Middle Amana. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

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By Adam Carros

MIDDLE AMANA, Iowa – The closing of a Whirlpool Corp. plant in Arkansas will add 160 jobs at the appliance manufacturer’s plant in Amana.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool announced Thursday that it plans to close its refrigerator plant in Fort Smith, Ark., in mid-2012, due to a decrease in demand for side-by-side refrigerators. The closing will put 884 hourly workers and 90 salaried employees employees out of work.

The plant, in addition to side-by-side refrigerators, produces built-in refrigerators and trash compactors. Whirlpool said built-in refrigerator production will move to Amana and trash compactor manufacturing will move to Ottawa, Ohio.

The Fort Smith facility employed 4,600 people five years ago, but that number has declined in the poor economy and since Whirlpool opened a refrigerator factory in Mexico. The company said its plant at Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, will take on side-by-side refrigerator production, but will not need to hire new workers.

Union workers at Whirlpool’s Amana Division plant approved a new four-year contract Saturday, Sept. 24. The new contract covers some 1,900 workers at the factory in Middle Amana.

It was the second straight four-year contract at the plant, and added a new lower wage tier of $13 per hour for new hires.

State and local officials worked with Whirlpool to bring a line of icemakers to the plant last year after Whirlpool closed its longtime refrigerator plant in Evansville, Ind. The company committed in February 2010 to invest $20 million in plant maintenance and upgrades after the State of Iowa approved a $6.5 million forgivable loan package

The Middle Amana plant manufactures Whirlpool’s ”bottom mount” refrigerators, which have the freezer compartment with a pull out drawer on the bottom. The company laid off 350 workers in July due to decreased demand.

The plant closing announcement came as the United States Department of Commerce ruled in Whirlpool’s favor on a antidumping complaint against Korean rivals LG and Samsung over pricing of bottom-freezer models made in Korea and Mexico.

Dumping refers to the practice of selling products below cost in order to gain market share.

“The Commerce Department’s preliminary finding of dumping validates the legal actions we are taking to protect our 23,000employees in the United States and the communities in which they work,” said Whirlpool Corporation spokesperson Kristine Vernier in a prepared statmeent issued Thursday.

Whirlpool closed its longtime refrigerator plant in Evansville, Ind., in 2010, eliminating about 2,000 positions.

Built-in refrigerators are models designed to be built into the surrounding cabinetry and kitchen surfaces rather than being freestanding.

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