No word on Maytag contract talks

No word yet on Maytag contract talks
 
Date June 09, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By PETER HUSSMANN

Editor

Newton is bracing for a potential second round of devastating economic news today as the as the extension of the curren t contract nears its expiration at 10 p.m. tonight.

Maytag and UAW Local 997 officials were continuing talks today over a new contract that has been extended twice since its initial expiration date of June 1. The contract covers nearly 1,600 production workers, as well as another 1,000 members still covered under the contract but on layoff status. The union also represents nearly 2,000 retired workers.

Negotiators agreed to a 24-hour extension just prior to the contract’s expiration on June 1 and another week-long extension the next day. Though negotiators have been mum on the status of the talks due to an agreed upon “black-out” on the release of information, workers commenting on last week’s update meeting at the Newton high school said negotiators appeared to remain far apart. International representatives of the UAW were set to join the negotiators earlier this week, workers said.

As far back as January, Maytag management said cost considerations at the Maytag plant, especially in the area of benefits, need to be addressed before the plant becomes eligible again for new product platform launches. Employment levels at the plant have dwindled over the course of the past several years, with a layoff announcement two months ago affecting more than 100 workers. Workers beginning employment at the plant as far back as seven years ago are now on layoff.

Adding to Newton’s concern over the contract talks is Maytag‘s major restructing announcement last Friday. Ralph Hake, Maytag‘s chairman and CEO, announced that 1,100 salaried employees would be eliminated corporate-wide with the biggest impacts occuring in Newton and its North Canton, Ohio, Hoover facility.

Under the plan, Maytag will close its company facility in Ohio where 500 jobs will be eliminated but leave its existing research and development site and manufacturing operation. Hoover production employees agreed to open their contract late last year after Maytag threatened to close the facility and made concessions that include paying a share of health benefits in return for employment level guarantees.

The remaining 600 positions will be eliminated from Maytag corporate headquarters and its Maytag Appliances unit, both based in Newton. Maytag officials will not say how many positions will be eliminated locally, noting that Maytag Appliances has company positions in a number of facilities throughout the United States. Sales positions with Maytag, however, will only be minimally impacted, the company said in its announcement. The presidents of Maytag Appliances and Hoover, Bill Beer and Tom Briatico, will report under an Office of the Presidents but will no longer have company sector reporting responsibilities. Those directors will report directly to Hake with the two former company presidents being given special project responsibilities.

Maytag officials are not releasing the timeline for the position eliminations but said Friday they would begin immediately. On Tuesday, workers within Maytag‘s information technology, research and development and the contracted call center departments were notified of their release. Maytag would not release the number of employees affected.

Hake, in his announcement Friday, said the restructuring plan will save the corporation $150 million annually. Charges, primarily severance costs, will be between $75 and $100 million. Maytag also announced that it did not expect second quarter results to meet expectations.

While the union contract talks continue, several possibilities exist. Workers could be asked to vote on a potential agreement or an extension of the current agreement could be agreed upon. In addition, a tentative contract modification proposal could be put in place where workers would continue production until such time as final details are put in order. Workers, however, have authorized a strike and could be on the picket-line shortly after sunset tonight.

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