In a move that saves at least 80 jobs, Whirlpool has reversed course and decided not to move ice-maker production at its Fort Smith, AR, U.S. plant to a company that would have built the units in China.
“Ice-maker assembly will remain at the Fort Smith division for now,” Whirlpool spokeswoman Mona Mendoza said.
The company announced on January 8 its plans to move the production to China. Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.-based Whirlpool is engaged in an ongoing internal examination of its production methods and lines called the Global Operating Platform study.
Ms. Mendoza said it became “advantageous to go in this direction for the time being,” but couldn't provide specifics on the analysis.
“The project focus has shifted to working with suppliers to reduce the cost of components in ice-maker assembly,” she said.
The ice-makers installed in the freezers of Whirlpool refrigerators also are manufactured at the Fort Smith facility.
Even if the shift in production had taken place, it was planned to retain the 80 people employed in ice-maker assembly by moving them to other openings at the factory. Leaving the positions in place though will keep the employment total higher.
“Whenever we can keep jobs in Fort Smith, that's good news,” said Larry Ryan, president of PACE Local 5-0370, the union at the Fort Smith plant.
Working within the platform study to find greater efficiencies in production will help save more jobs, Mr. Ryan hopes. “Everyone is working hard to cut costs (throughout the plant) and stay competitive,” he said. “You've got to survive.”
Although they may be working hard, assembly-line employees at Whirlpool in Fort Smith will not be working longer hours in the near term.
Mendoza said schedules for line workers were scaled back to regular 40-hr workweeks beginning in mid-November, shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday week.
The elimination in overtime was part of a usual, seasonal dropoff in customer demand that occurs yearly at Whirlpool, Ms. Mendoza said.
Employing about 4,500, Whirlpool's Fort Smith plant is the largest manufacturing employer in the Fort Smith area. The plant's primary purpose is the production of refrigerators, although the plant has a trash compactor assembly operation. (Times Record)
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