Fred Denney and Pete Galvan say Whirlpool officials are “cheap bastards.” And that was after they were given a few chances to soften their opinion.
Whirlpool announced Oct. 27, 2011, it would close its Fort Smith refrigeration manufacturing plant. Today’s (June 29) closure will mark the end of more than 45 years of Whirlpool operations in Fort Smith. The Norge Company opened in 1961 a factory for the manufacture of refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners. It was purchased by Whirlpool in 1966 and expanded.
The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based company moved production of trash compactors from Fort Smith to Ottawa, Ohio, and production of built-in refrigerators will move to Amana, Iowa. Production of the side-by-side refrigerators, once the bread-and-butter of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant, will move to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
The future of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator-production plant was a cause for concern following the November 2003 announcement by Whirlpool of a global reorganization plan. Following November 2003, Whirlpool announced numerous production cuts and layoffs. Whirlpool employment in Fort Smith dropped from about 4,600 in early 2006 to an estimated 850 on June 29.
‘JOB ENDED TODAY’
Denney, 62, has been with Whirlpool for 35 years. His first job with the company was spraying a porcelain coating on what was once the inside of a Whirlpool refrigerator.
On Wednesday (June 27), he spent the day “picking boogers and snot” — aka, removing excess plastic and sealer from refrigerator parts — off of some of the last 25-cubic feet side-by-side refrigerators to be produced at the plant.
“My job ended today,” Denney said when asked if he would work through to Friday. “And I don’t mind telling you that I’m glad it’s finally here.”
Whirlpool officials may also be glad Denney is out the door. Denney spoke to the media when the company announced it was leaving. He was required to visit management, who wanted to encourage him to pipe down.
“The first thing this lady tells me is, ‘You’re not in trouble.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Then why the hell am I in here?’” Denney said of the meeting. “They were just trying to intimidate me. ... That’s how Whirlpool works out there. They keep everyone, or they try to keep everyone scared.”
(Over the course of several weeks, Whirlpool officials did not respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails from The City Wire.)
OUT THE DOOR
Galvan, an Army veteran who will be 62 on July 14, has been with Whirlpool for 34 years. He first worked in the warehouse, but moved up to a systems inspector — a relatively high-profile job for hourly workers at the plant.
“Basically, the last product will be coming by my area for approval before it leaves,” said Galvan, who will be one of the last of the employees to clock out today (June 29).
As to the final products made at the plant, Galvan wouldn’t buy one.
“They are doing everything they can to pressure us to get everything out the door as fast as we can. They are making sure we don’t inspect anything real closely,” he explained.
At this point, it’s more about quantity than quality, according to Galvan and Denney.
The two also allege that some managers are stealing valuable tools, equipment, copper and other raw materials from the plant. The managers, according to Galvan and Denney, have covered each other in the last few weeks as “small trailers” and trucks are loaded.
“If you’re a manager, you can get away with that kind of thing,” Galvan said. “They’ve done it for years, and now with this (plant closure), it’s just happening a lot more.”
CERTIFICATE AND A KEYCHAIN
Galvan and Denney, like many of the high-seniority hourly workers at Whirlpool, will receive a $6,000 severance paycheck, about $2,500 in incentive money, three paid holidays, and about $30.50 per-year-of-service monthly pay through a retirement plan. (Denney, for example, will receive around $1,067 a month from his Whirlpool retirement plan.)
Denney also received a certificate and a Whirlpool keychain.
“So, all those years, and they give me a little paper certificate and a keychain. What the hell is that?” Denney said with a frustrated laugh.
Galvan was offended by a catfish dinner the company held outside instead of in a cooler location inside the plant.
“I was so insulted by being fed outdoors after all these years that I didn’t even go. To heck with them,” Galvan said.
The company gave everyone a picture book. The front and back covers were nice color images of the Whirlpool plant and logo. Inside were “cheap looking black and white photos of all of us workers,” Denney said. “Cheap bastards.”
“Yes. What he said,” Galvan said when asked if he agreed with Denney’s “cheap” assessment.
“And I’d say everyone out there, except for the bootlickers, would say that,” Galvan added.
Denney and Galvan agree that the company provided good employment for many years, but they note they worked hard for the company. It was an equal relationship, but they say Whirlpool has ensured the end of the relationship has been favorable only for the company.
The severance plan should have been at least $1,000 for each year of seniority, with a retirement plan that included a longer term for insurance coverage, Galvan said. The men also blame the union for what they say is a poor severance package.
“This (better severance package) is something that should have been negotiated into that last (labor) contract,” Galvan said.
Despite being bitter about the way the deal ended, Denney and Galvan say they are ready to move on.
Denney plans to retire and help raise his three children. He and his wife have Daniel, 15, Neiah, 9, and Neika, 6.
Moving on is the desire of most Whirlpool workers still at the plant.
“You know, ever since they made their announcement that they were shutting us down, most are just wanting to get the hell out of there and do whatever they got to do to get on with their lives,” Denney said.
Galvan and his wife have Mark, 18, and Micah, 15. Mark recently graduated from Southside High School.
Galvan and Mark will in the fall attend the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology. The Tulsa-based school has graduated more than 90,000 aviation techs and pilots since 1928.
Mark plans to be an aircraft mechanic.
Galvan seeks a one-year certificate in “non-destructive testing,” a method to test aircraft components without compromising their future usefulness. Pay for careers in the sector range between $65,000 and $200,000, Galvan said. He hopes to get a job with an airline inspecting airframes. He plans to work until he’s at least 68.
“My youngest son wants to be a doctor, so someone has to put him through medical school,” Galvan said with a laugh that failed to hide the weight of responsibility to continue providing for his family.
Denney is one of the lucky ones with regard to family and finances. His house is almost paid for. With his Whirlpool retirement, Social Security and money from his wife’s job, they will be able to make ends meet.
“I’m going to be OK. ... But most folks out there, they’re really going to be hurting with their finances,” Denney said.