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Iowa Town Hit Hard by Whirlpool Job Cuts

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Whirlpool today announced the elimination of 4,500 jobs at several manufacturing sites around the country and also in Mexico and Canada. The company has about 80,000 workers in all. Last March, Whirlpool bought its smaller rival, Maytag, for $1.7 billion. In business terms, that's what's called consolidation. In people terms, it means that in a town called Newton, Iowa, 1,000 people are losing their jobs at a washer and dryer making plant.

Pete Slings has worked at the Newton, Iowa, plant for 20 years. He's among those who'll soon be out of a job. He's also coowner of the Raceway Motor Sports Café, where the closure is the talk of the day. Pete Slings, what's the mood in Newton, Iowa today?

PETE SLINGS: Uncertainty. A lot of people wondering what they're going to do now.

SIEGEL: What was the scene like this morning when the news came down?

SLINGS: It was a surprise. Got to work at 7:00 a.m. By 7:15 we had found out that they were going to shut the entire plant down. Everybody go to their break area and our department manager presented us with a written speech from J.C. Anderson, the President of Whirlpool, telling us that the Newton, Iowa, plant would be phased out. Our plant will be closed October of 2007.

SIEGEL: So you have a year left, more or less. A little bit more than a year.

SLINGS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Now for 20 years of service, do you walk away with a decent severance package or do you have pension or benefits that you keep?

SLINGS: Well, we get to keep our existing pension. We're vested in that. They have said that they will be developing a separation package for existing employees, which will include severance, continuation on our healthcare benefit and job search assistance.

SIEGEL: A thousand people with jobs at the plant. What are they going to do? Are there other jobs to pick up that many people in Newton, Iowa?

SLINGS: Not in Newton, there isn't. We're 30 miles east of Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. There are jobs probably available there.

SIEGEL: How long ago did it become clear to you that it was at least possible that the Maytag plant could shut down in Newton?

SLINGS: Well, for about the last two years they've been slowly phasing us out. They haven't invested a lot of money in our plant. They've pretty much stopped advertising the products we build. And we used to employ 2,600 people at the plant.

SIEGEL: When you heard the announcement and then went back to your area with your fellow workers, did you people have the sense that within another year you may not see each other anymore? That a fair number of you will be leaving town?

SLINGS: Well, I think we've all been, the last couple of years, preparing for this. Because Maytag had said if they didn't get it sold, if somebody didn't come along and buy us, that they would end up closing the plant down. But when Whirlpool bought, it kind of gave us a glimmer of hope that maybe we'd still have a chance. I guess that's not the case.

As soon as they made the announcement, they said, go back, change your shoes, get out of your work shoes and take the day. They gave us the rest of the day off with pay to go home and think about it. And me being the owner of a bar, I offered a free keg of Bud Light while it lasted to anybody that wanted to come out and talk about what we just heard.

SIEGEL: And how long did it last?

SLINGS: Well, it lasted about four hours.

SIEGEL: Lot of talk over beer. Mr. Slings, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SLINGS: You bet.

SIEGEL: That's Pete Slings, who, in addition to being co-owner of the Raceway Motor Sports Café in Newton, Iowa, has also worked for 20 years at the Maytag plant there. Maytag was bought by Whirlpool and Whirlpool has announced today that that's one of the plants they're shutting down. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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