A plan to move production of refrigerator ice makers from Whirlpool’s Fort Smith, AR, U.S. manufacturing site to China is on hold, according to a current and former union president at the plant.
"They are not sure they are going to do that (move the line)," Neal Catlett, a former union president, said. "It might be 2 years before they do anything with the line."
Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.-based Whirlpool Corp. confirmed on Jan. 8 that the company had plans to outsource ice maker production. The move, according to Whirlpool officials, would send production to China.
The ice makers are installed in the freezers of Whirlpool refrigerators and are also sold to Whirlpool competitors.
Larry Ryan, president of PACE Local 0-5370, the union at the Fort Smith plant, recently confirmed Mr. Catlett’s claim. Mr. Ryan said the company is considering several options, including one that would move part of the line to China and retain some production in Fort Smith.
"They might not move the whole thing.…I’m just glad to keep whatever we can back here in Fort Smith," Mr. Ryan said.
Although the removal of the ice maker line would reduce overall employment at the plant, it would not result in the loss of jobs by those on the line, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Catlett said.
Both men said those on the line would fill jobs left vacant by normal attrition. Mr. Ryan said up to 90 people work on the line, but Mr. Catlett put the number closer to 120. Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant employs about 4,500 people.
However, Whirlpool spokesman Christopher Wyse said the schedule to move ice maker production is "exactly where it was before." He said the line will move "sometime in 2005."
Mr. Wyse said in early January 2004 that the planned move was nothing more than "a normal course of business," and it would be "more than a year" before the move would occur. He said then that the decision is part of the company’s global product and marketing study begun in February 2003. (Times Record)
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