Spin Cycle

Whirlpool confirms layoffs; specifics remain murky

Whirlpool’s namesake might represent the what’s happening to years of job security for employees at multiple locations: Down the drain. The washing machine manufacturer’s Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Mich., locations were confirmed to be in the process of layoffs as of February 2. The South Bend Tribune was first to report the confirmation.

In total, no numbers have been given despite the statement, which does concede that the cuts are part of a $150 million cost reduction plan. At least 4,000 workers are currently employed at Whirlpool’s southwestern Michigan locations alone—Benton Harbor and St. Joseph—and are subject to job reduction. Benton Harbor is home to its headquarters; the company employs almost 100,000 globally.

Whirlpool did say it plans to add 200 jobs to a Clyde, Ohio location immediately following the January 22 announcement of increased tariffs on washing machines, for which the company was at least a partially influential trigger. That tariff was part of a double announcement in new trade legislature that also includes solar panel imports.

Ties were also cut with Sears in October when the department store discontinued sales of Whirlpool products. Speaking on a conference call to investors at the time, Whirlpool CEO Mark Bitzer downplayed the impact of that decision, mentioning that Sears sales accounted only about three percent of Whirlpool’s global business.

In related news, the washing machine tariff produced a ripple effect in other areas of the country. An LG Electronics plant under construction in Clarksville, Tenn., hangs in uncertainty following the tax increase on imported washing machines, which Seoul, South Korea-based LG intended to make at the new factory. “At stake is an appliance manufacturing complex that could eventually employ thousands of workers and which the state of Tennessee and the local community supported with some $23 million in grants. The 310-acre (1.25 square kilometer) site an hour north of Nashville has room for three additional buildings identical to the plant’s $250 million, 600-job first phase,” Reuters’ David Lawter reported January 29, mentioning that Clarksville was forced to shutter a Hemlock Semiconductor polysilicon plant designed for solar panel materials four years ago due to the trade dispute.

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