Whirlpool to offer assistance to Maytag employees, Newton

Whirlpool to offer assistance to Maytag employees, Newton
 
Date May 11, 2006
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By JESSICA LOWE

NDN Staff Writer

As the community reeled from the news that all Maytag operations in Newton would close, Whirlpool’s President of North American Operations Dave Swift tried to offer words of comfort to those hit hardest by Wednesday’s announcement.

“The opening comment I made to the employees today is that ‘I love my job 364 days a year. This is the one day I don’t like,'” said Swift at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “There was nothing to me that was more impactful than to be on that stage and look into the faces of employees and understand how they were going to be impacted. It’s a very big deal to us as a company and (to me) as an individual.”

Employees met with Swift and other Whirlpool officials Wednesday immediately following the announcement that all Maytag operations and offices would be closed by the end of 2007. Swift said small group meetings were conducted by finance and human resources to try to allow people to grasp how they were personally going to be impacted by the integration of the two companies.

“We knew that we were going to be faced with making some very difficult choices, like we’ve announced … (Wednesday’s) focus has been all about the people, the people that have been impacted here in Newton, as well as in other locations,” he said.

Whirlpool will be offering assistance plans and counseling services to employees at their Newton facilities to help salve the sting of losing their jobs and make the transition as easy as possible.

“The key message that we left with employees today was that we’re going to work closely with them,” Swift said. “Whirlpool has a set of values that puts people at the front. We’re committed to focus on severance, focus on continuity of benefits, employee assistance plans as well as counseling for emotional issues, which we expect there will be several people (who) will have to deal with.”

Swift offered some solace when he stated the pensions of former Maytag employees would not be affected, at least not through the end of the year.

“(There will be) no change in benefits through the end of 2006,” said Swift, who added, “Just like we do every year with all our benefits, anybody that is an employee of the company we revisit. Potentially things could change but right now there is no change to the end of this year.”

Although Swift assured employees of their benefits, Whirlpool took criticism from the state’s legislative representatives who expressed their concern for the 1,800 jobs that would be lost in Newton.

“I am very disappointed with Whirlpool’s decision to shut down Newton’s Maytag operation. My greatest concern is with the affected workers, their families and the entire Newton community,” said Rep. Leonard Boswell in a press release.

In January, Boswell and Sen. Tom Harkin sent a letter to the Justice Department asking officials to block the planned purchase of Maytag, to no avail. The purchase was finalized March 31. Harkin also expressed his disappointment with Whirlpool’s announcement.

“When Maytag announced their plans to sell the company, I was deeply concerned that this could lead to loss of jobs in our state,” said Harkin in a press release. “Though many of us worked to protect Iowa jobs and highlight the benefits of maintaining Maytag‘s Iowa facilities and workforce, unfortunately (Wednesday), those concerns were realized. Now we will work together to ensure that the affected workers and their families will get the assistance and training they need to get back to work as soon as possible.”

Assistance for the economic vitality of the area is on its way. Gov. Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday that he has urged the Iowa Department of Economic Development to earmark $10 million to assist in the creation of job opportunities for displaced Maytag workers.

“The State of Iowa is prepared to put $10 million forward to the community of Newton and Jasper County in an effort to enable them to aggressively work to create opportunities either to fill the current facility, to build new facilities and to maintain economic activity in the community.”

Whirlpool has made a commitment that the Fortune 500 company will help the city and the state deal with the loss of the Maytag jobs, Swift said.

“We’ve committed to the state of Iowa that we are going to work with the state as well as the community here in Newton to make sure that going forward the employees of Maytag will have other opportunities and we’re going to work closely with them to make sure we have assistance plans and that we are helping to develop things with them,” he said.

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