Black Day in the Burg

by Norm Winick

Maytag's Black Friday announcement in Galesburg was just another example of runaway corporate greed. Carl Sandburg spoke of it 100 years ago when he argued for widespread strikes to bring about ''rising wage scales and the shortening workday and the deepening values and valuations of man as man.''

Maytag's refusal to understand the human element is integral to their corporate mindset. According to employees, they have consistently lied about toxic chemicals and dangerous processes in the workplace, denied health benefits to injured employees and implemented 1984-type big-brother policies.

That's how they've been screwing the workers. They also asked for and received more than $10 million in cash and incentives from local and state taxpayers. That wasn't enough. They won't even have to give that back.

State Representative Don Moffitt said Friday that ''we [taxpayers] have never gotten it back that I know of.''

''We had made a deal with Briggs for $1 million for a new kiln but they wouldn't promise not to close the plant -- and we didn't give them the money. At least they were honest with us. Maytag's already gotten theirs.''

Management had police protection to keep the employees away at the Prairie Inn as Karen Lynn, Vice-President Communications, fielded questions one-on-one from reporters.

She provided little new information but confirmed that the move is part of a bigger restructuring of the company's refrigerator business. They are getting out of the top-freezer business. While industry sources say those models account for over two-thirds of all refrigerators sold, Maytag will make them no more. They will be outsourced, probably to Frigidaire (who already makes Amana's top-mounts) but also, maybe, to Daewoo. The top-end wide-by-sides (known as the ''Illinois line'' but likely to be renamed) will be made in Amana, Ia. The other side-by-sides will be discontinued and new designs made in Reynosa, Mexico -- across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Tex.

Despite reports that the Galesburg plant was their most efficient and productive, Amana wins and Galesburg loses. A report in Appliance magazine states that the redesigned assembly line in Galesburg ''Šexceeded the goals. The only downside was overproduction because top management insisted that the production rate equal the sales forecast. ŠThe big surprise was the improvement in service call rate, in-plant quality, injury rates and employee grievances.''

That doesn't matter now. Top management couldn't figure out that expending a little marketing effort to increase sales would bring much greater rewards than cutting production to match their sales projections.

They're idiots.

Maytag has taken several generations to build an image as a quality product. Galesburg workers bought into that plan and built refrigerators that earned top marks from several rating services, including Consumer Reports. They're giving that up by outsourcing a big chunk of their business or sending work to Mexico to make investors happy for a day or two.

They're idiots.

They have tried to paint Galesburg as inefficient ever since they purchased Amana. Workers were told a year ago, when they asked why they couldn't make Amana's top-mounts in Galesburg, that Maytag could but them cheaper from Frigidaire than they could make them themselves. Several local engineers put the figures to paper and knew management was lying.

They're idiots.

They made their announcement Friday, claiming repeatedly that the decision had just been made the day before. Nevertheless, they wouldn't talk to local officials for nearly a year; they had 1,600 packets ready for factory workers by 9am; extra security in place; rooms reserved at the Prairie Inn, press packets for the local media and a national press announcement also scheduled for 9am. Either top management found something they're really good at or they think we're idiots.

We've got several commentaries from our staff, letters, and messages from employees inside this expanded Zephyr.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website October 19, 2002

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