Archive for May, 2004

Labor agreement yet to be reached, negotiations with Maytag continue

May 28, 2004

Labor agreement yet to be reached, negotiations with Maytag continue
Date May 28, 2004
Section(s) Local News

By PETER HUSSMANN
Editor

Maytag officials said today that no contract agreement has yet been reached in labor negotiations with UAW Local 997.

“There is no agreement yet, but negotiations are continuing,” said Maytag spokesperson Lynn Dragomier.

The groups have been in negotiations for the past month but no information has been forthcoming after both sides agreed to a “blackout,” Maytag CEO Ralph Hake noted at the shareholder’s annual meeting earlier this month.

Since the beginning of the year, Maytag has said improving cost-efficiencies at the Newton plant was necessary for the site to become eligible for new product platforms. A number of those improvements need to be addressed in the current contract negotiations, Hake said at a press conference following the annual meeting.

During his presentation to shareholders, Hake noted the “substantial sacrifices” Hoover workers made to ensure continued production at its North Canton, Ohio site.

School officials said today the high school gym has been reserved for Wednesday for a possible vote.

We’re all in this together now

May 27, 2004

We’re all in this together now
Date May 27, 2004
Section(s) Opinion

To the Editor:

In a previous letter to this paper I mentioned having some suggestions for Maytag Corporation in regard to cleaning up our image and improving sales. I also promised to share these ideas in a future letter. I’ve since, however, realized this to be a complete waste of my time. I’ll explain it like this…

When I look out into the street and I see several hundred of my former co-workers looking for work, I consider this to be a crisis. When the corporation looks out into the street and sees several hundred laid off workers, they consider this to be just a good start.

Offering solutions to people like this is a joke, so I’ll offer questions instead.

1. Why did we suddenly need two Lonely Repairmen/ Are you trying to tell future customers we are anticipating higher rates of failure? Get rid of the kid. I think Hardy can handle things by himself.

2. What does Lean Sigma really mean? If we consider transporting parts across the plant to be inefficient, how do you justify shipping parts clear across North America? If things from Mexico are really that much cheaper, maybe we should consider importing a less expensive CEO.

3. What happened to Maytag being a “great place to work?” We don’t seem to be hearing this slogan anymore.

4. With such a reduction in our work force, both unit and company, why haven’t we fired any vice presidents? I guess they must have been overworked all along.

Company versus union. That’s the way it was for many years. But no more. It’s Newton versus the corporation now. I reckon we’re all in this together from here on out.

Rich Harris

Newton

Where exactly is the inefficiency

May 19, 2004

Where exactly is the inefficiency?
Date May 19, 2004
Section(s) Opinion

To the Editor:

I am getting tired of the local Maytag employees being criticized by management for their inefficiency, along with the high cost of operating the Newton facility.

When you go outside the country and build a new plant, that plant is equipped with new and up-to-date machinery. If the new equipment were installed in the Newton facility they would be more efficient. There is machinery being run in Newton that my father ran during World War II. Welders and presses are being used that were purchased when Plant 2 was built. You cannot be efficient on antique machines.

When parts are coming in from outside the country that are defective and have to be reworked by the Newton facility before being workable in a machine, it is not the Newton plant that is inefficient.

Also, when it is pointed out that certain procedures are cheaper done in-house than outsourced, but management makes the decision to oursource any way, it makes me wonder just where the inefficiency lies that makes this plant such a high cost plant.

Patricia Beckham

Newton

The times have changed

May 14, 2004

The times have changed
Date May 14, 2004
By Peter Hussmann
Editor

Those that don’t understand the appliance industry is undergoing a sea change in the way it operates are denying the business reality of the situation.

So said Ralph Hake to shareholders attending Thursday’s annual meeting.

He put it like this. A Maytag washer built in 1974 cost about $500. The same type of top load, agitator driven model today markets for about $60 less. You do the math.

During his address, Hake continually referred to Maytag’s transition, change and, in essence, coming of age for the 100-plus year old company. While he said all intentions are for Maytag to continue to operate as an independent, publicly traded company for the next 100 years, today there can be no guarantees of a lifetime attachment to a specific manufacturing operation.

Words of assurance for Newton were not forthcoming. With labor talks under way — and Maytag’s past statements that new platforms would not occur here until safety, cost, delivery and quality issues have been rectified — Hake said it would not be appropriate to talk directly about the local situation, noting a blackout agreement the company and UAW had reached about the negotiations. He did say, however, that the parties involved were eminently capable of doing what was necessary to ensure some sort of satisfactory outcome.

Anyone looking for insight into what the next few weeks hold for Newton was left hanging. One should not likely put much solace in Hake’s statement that no additional U.S. plants are planned for closure at the current time by comparing it to another statement he made that 96 percent of Maytag production work occurs within the borders, not necessarily a good thing, he said.

Bob Dylan had it right a long time ago. But the times aren’t just “a-changin,” they have.

IT’S OFTEN WHAT’S left unsaid that leads to loudest reverberations. Such could be the case with the local UAW CAP committee’s endorsement for county candidates in the June primary election.

The committee, which is the political arm of the UAW, gave endorsements to Dennis Parrott, a first-time local candidate for office who is seeking the auditor’s seat opening up due to the retirement of Ken Slothouber. The committee also decided to back Mike Balmer, who is seeking his second term as Jasper County Sheriff.

Good choices both.

And I suspect both will win. Neither is opposed in the June 8 Democratic Primary election and once again, local Republicans are as of yet failing to field a platform of candidates for the two open county seats.

But what screams the loudest is the position the CAP committee took on the pending Democratic primary race for county supervisor.

In that race, supervisor chairman Max Worthington, who is finishing his first term, faces former supervisor Pat Milligan, who was ousted handily two years ago after two terms on the board when the local Republican party assumed control of the courthouse for the first time in at least 30 years.

The loud silence emanates from the CAP committee’s decision not to endorse either candidate. Though no one on the committee said as much, odds are the lack of an endorsement wafts back four years ago when the county sheriff’s race caused quite a rift within the union ranks.

At that time, Balmer, who was chief deputy under retiring Sheriff Jim Verwers, held the line for succession of power. As his boss before him and his boss before him, he was the natural person to assume the position.

However, an upstart sheriff deputy, John Guthrie, decided to challenge the status quo and jumped in as a second Democratic candidate for the seat, creating a situation where local Democrats were forced to eat their own.

Not even getting into the felony drug charges which were filed the day after Guthrie lost the primary election and upon which he was later acquitted, it appears local union officials don’t want to go anywhere near what transpired four years ago. While the union leadership generally supported Balmer’s bid, a significant portion of the membership backed Guthrie’s run for the seat. It created, let’s say, a tense situation, something it appears the CAP committee wishes not to replicate.

Probably for the best.

ON TUESDAY, Worthington and Milligan met in a candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Jasper County where Milligan criticized the current board’s handling of the new jail project, said not enough effort was being made at economic development efforts and suggested the county unload the former care facility site in an effort to get the area back on the tax rolls. Worthington, on the other hand, gave his support of using the unused portions of the Annex Building as a human services campus, a change from his previous suggestion of using the former county home as the location of such a site, effectively stealing Mr. Milligan’s same suggestion that has appeared in his paid advertising.

The topic of enacting a five-member board was also broached. Both candidates saw no real problems with such a plan, if brought to a vote of county residents through the proper petition channels and if the cost of such a move could be covered under the current strictures of county resources.

What the two men opposed, however, was enacting a county-manager form of government. Under such a scenario, the day-to-day operation of the county would fall to the county manager with the supervisors acting as policy makers, directing the show but leaving the hands-on work to the manager.

No way, both men said, even with a five member board. They would be happy to continue to run the show, thank you. A manager puts distance between the people and their elected representative, they argue.

But then, maybe that’s a good thing.

Hake: No plans for more plant closings

May 13, 2004

Hake: No plans for more plant closings
Date May 13, 2004
Section(s) Local News

By ANDY KARR
NDN Staff Writer

PETER HUSSMANN
Editor

Maytag Chairman and CEO Ralph Hake did little to ease the concern of Newton residents over the future of laundry production operations in the city other than to say there are currently no plans to close any more U.S. plants.

Hake met with reporters following the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting, but was reluctant to discuss specifics of the Newton operation due to ongoing contract negotiations between the company and UAW Local 997. The current three-year contract expires at the end of the month.

Since the beginning of the year, Maytag officials have said the Newton operation does not stand to gain any new product platforms until such issues as safety, quality, cost and delivery are addressed.

Employment levels at the plant have fallen by nearly 1,000 people since the high point of production in the late 1990s. Currently, there are approximately 1,600 production employees at Maytag’s Newton facility. And late last month, salaried personnel involved with Maytag operations were terminated as a result of reduced production levels.

“Without major changes, Newton is not eligible for new products,” Hake said. “Newton is one of our highest cost plants.”

Reluctant to identify specifics of the improvements needed, Hake did say that union officials have been working with the company to address some of the problems. He noted that safety rates have been improving but remain above average and that improvements in production methods have occurred.

“The union has been working with us,” he said.

Although reluctant to speak about the future of Newton’s operation, Hake did say that future growth areas will go to those plants that can be most competitive.

“I’d love to see them all grow, but those plants that are most cost effective are the ones most likely to grow,” he said.

At the shareholders meeting, Hake said increasing competition from imports and falling prices for appliances impacted Maytag’s profitability in the past year.

Maytag’s leader promised continuing changes to keep the company profitable in the global market. By building company brands, delighting customers and continuing to innovate, he said, the company can persevere.

Hake recapped 2003, outlined plans for the future and fielded some heated questions on the closing of the company’s Galesburg, Ill., plant during the hour-long meeting.

During his presentation, Hake noted that competition for Maytag products is heavy, including increased competition from foreign companies. This has led to decreasing prices for Maytag products. In 1974, a Maytag washer retailed for about $499, he said, while today a washer with more features retails for $439.

“In the appliance industry, the competition is so fierce that the price we can garner for our products moved down,” he said.

Looking back at 2003, Hake noted a 2.7 percent sales growth, major appliance marketshare gain and the expansion of Maytag Services. He highlighted new products released during the year, including the Skybox personal vendor, a French door refrigerator and the Neptune drying center.

Hake also mentioned a decrease in earnings in 2003, which he attributed primarily to the Hoover brand. In particular, Hoover has been hurt by increased competition from imports and soft sales of upright vacuums. Hake promised to revamp Hoover to improve its profitability and announced that 15 new Hoover products are planned for this year, a “record number.”

Hake also noted that employees at the Hoover plant in Ohio agreed to restructure their contract as a cost control measure.

Repeatedly during his presentation, Hake mentioned the need for Maytag to continue to make changes to remain competitive.

“Change has been and will continue to be a way of life at Maytag,” he said.

Often with change comes resistance and after his presentation, Hake was hit with tough and sometimes heated questions from shareholders. Several machinist union members questioned company decisions surrounding the closing of the plant in Galesburg and the transfer of those jobs to a facility in Mexico.

One man asked how Maytag could justify closing the Galesburg facility if the company truly is concerned with the communities where it operates.

“Your actions in Galesburg indicate you have little concern for the communities in which you function,” he said.

Another man named two soldiers serving in Iraq who worked at the plant and asked what company executives would say to them when they return to find their jobs gone to Mexico.

Hake repeatedly rebutted comments about closing the plant by referring to its lack of profitability.

“I understand your point of view,” he said in response to one Galesburg questioner. “The truth, is the compelling financial argument to shut down at Galesburg was overwhelming and necessary for shareholders.”

Hake further added that the refrigerator manufactured at the plant was not selling well, and that continuing to produce that product in Galesburg would cost the company money.

Of all the commenters, only one voiced support.

“I support you and what you’re doing,” one man said, “You have to do what you can to be competitive in the world market.”

Near the end of the question and answer session a shareholder asked if the company had plans to relocate additional plants to Mexico.

Hake responded by saying Maytag will try to keep jobs in the United States where they remain financially viable.

“My goal is to protect as many American jobs as we can,” he said. “Time will tell if we can.”

Maytag speeds up end of plant production

May 6, 2004

Maytag speeds up end of plant production
Date May 06, 2004
Section(s) Local News

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) — Maytag plans to end all production at its refrigerator plant here in September, two months earlier than previously announced, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

In March, the city’s largest employer said production of its top-mount lines would continue until mid-November, while production of its side-by-side refrigerators would end in September. But Wednesday, Maytag officials told employees it would stop both production lines in September, company spokeswoman Lynne Dragomier said.

Dragomier said the decision to end production early was made because market demand for the top-mount units sagged. Maytag recently introduced a new top-mount model, which is manufactured by a South Korean company.

“This is just a two-month change in what we have been communicating all along,” she said.

Maytag announced almost two years ago it would close the 1,600-employee plant by the end of 2004 and move production to Mexico.

Although the facility will remain open until the end of the year, only “a minimal number” of workers will remain once production ends, she said.

Layoffs already have pared the plant’s work force to about 1,000 employees, Dragomier said.

Maytag’s change of plans is another blow to Galesburg’s employment base.

Last month, Butler Manufacturing, which was acquired by Australia-based BlueScope Steel, said its Galesburg factory would close.

Maytag before today

May 5, 2004

Maytag before today
Date May 05, 2004
Section(s) Opinion

To the Editor:

Expanding on Joel Wormley’s letter that appeared in the Friday, April 30, issue of the Daily News:

To look back and observe the strategic planning and placement of employees prior to the “door knocking,” it is easy to see that the “secret police” clearly wanted to know who would be present to open the door and go with them.

Kind of ironic when you realize that these same “police” walk through the doors of local churches on the Sabbath. And if that doesn’t help their conscience, then they just down a few drinks to help the mind forget about their acts that they have committed on some of their fellow employees. Great TEAMWORK Maytag!

Charlotte Witte

Kellogg