Evansville braces for Whirlpool closure
BOONVILLE, Indiana – When appliance maker Whirlpool announced it would close its Evansville plant and move production to Mexico, Natalie Ford said the shock was almost physical.
“It was like a punch in the gut,” she said at her home in Boonville, around 15 miles from Evansville. Ford, 42, has worked at the plant for nearly 19 years, while her husband Jim, 47, has been worked there for nearly 18 years.
“After all we have done for Whirlpool, I feel like we’ve been betrayed,” added Ford (below), with tears in her eyes.
Whirlpool has been in Evansville since 1955 and at its peak employed around 9,000 people at three plants here. But over the years it has cut back its operations and all that remains is the refrigerator plant and a design center.
The announcement in August came after years in which Darrell Collins said employees had made concessions and worked hard to keep the company from leaving.
“We had done everything we could to make help them become competitive,” said Collins (below), the president of the union that represents workers at the plant. “The board of Whirlpool made that decision, but they don’t know who we are. They’ve never been here and they don’t know what we do.”
“The company doesn’t care about us,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s all about money.”
The company has decided to keep the design center, which employs around 300 people, in Evansville. But the plant is slated to close down by the end of next year.
Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel said that after years of cuts, the news that Whirlpool will shut down the refrigerator plant was hard but was perhaps inevitable.
“It was a shock, but it wasn’t too much of a surprise,” he said. “This has been coming for some time.”
Collins said that the impact of Whirlpool’s decision to shut the plant down will be felt my suppliers and vendors in the area and that up to 7,000 jobs could be lost locally as a result. The unemployment rate in this city of around 115,000 people was 7.6 percent in September, below the national average of 9.8 percent. But it will undoubtedly rise, even though some of those jobs are over the river in Kentucky.
Collins, 59, said that the union, Whirlpool and the city have been working on a retraining program for workers at the plant, but said with job losses of this scope it will be hard for to find jobs for everyone in a down economy.
“I’m close to retirement so I can find a way to get by,” he said. “But how are we going to find jobs for all the younger people that work here?”
Even if they can find work there are few jobs around that will pay the $17 an hour they have been used to at Whirlpool, Collins added.
“If they’re lucky, many of them will end up making $8 an hour,” he said.
Mayor Weinzapfel said that the city is looking to the future and hopes to use the Whirlpool design center to attract others in cooperation with local universities.
“We have to play to our strengths and expand on that capability,” he said.
But for Robert Jacobs, 62 (above), who has worked at the Whirlpool plant for more than 40 years, the future looks grim.
“If we keep sending our jobs away then soon we won’t have any left,” he said. “That’s the way to destroy your economy.”
“The corporation (Whirlpool) is going to have to take responsibility for what they’ve done,” he added. They’re destroying jobs and families.”
Photos by Brian Snyder