Stateside,  Trade Unions

Insult to injury

When thousands of angry, largely white, largely middle-class, American-flag-waving people gather for a protest, you’d expect Fox News to be there providing moment-to-moment coverage.

But you’d be wrong. If the demonstrators aren’t denouncing Barack Obama as a socialist, or decrying the government “takeover” of something, Fox News isn’t so interested. (In fairness, neither are other big media outlets.)

So when workers at the Whirlpool refrigerator plant in Evansville, Indiana, gathered on Friday with family members and supporters to protest the company’s plans to shut down and move operations to Mexico, throwing 1,100 out of work, not much more than local media reported on it.

While Whirlpool’s sales are down due to the housing recession, it remains a profitable company. In addition the company received nearly $20 million as part of the Obama administration’s stimulus package.

The AFL-CIO Now Blog reported:

The local [union representing Whirlpool workers] received no advance notice of the closing announcement and had no opportunity to try to save the plant, [union president Darrell] Collins says. In the past, workers have accepted reduced wages and embraced cost-saving lean manufacturing techniques to save jobs.

Profitable companies shutting down US operations and moving them to cheaper locations, each time costing hundreds or thousands of workers their jobs and devastating a community, is unfortunately so routine as to barely attract notice outside the locality itself. What makes Whirlpool’s shutdown in Evansville especially egregious is that the company had the gall to warn workers against protesting.

In a memo sent to its employees and passed along to the Huffington Post, Paul Coburn, division vice president for Whirlpool’s Evansville Division, offers a fairly explicit warning to his workers: If they join Trumka’s protest they would seriously risk future employment opportunity.

“In the last six months we have delivered strong results in spite of having to see a good deal of our equipment taken out of the building and moved to its new location. I believe that it is a testament to your character that you have continued to work hard to preserve the positive reputation of the Evansville workforce during this period,” Coburn writes.

“With this in mind, we have shared our concern with Local 808 leaders that these negative activities will only hamper employees when they look for future jobs. The entire community is aware and sympathetic towards the situation we all face. We fear that potential employers will view the actions of a few and determine whether they would want to hire any of Evansville Division employees in the future. We hope that this is not the case, but think it is certainly a consideration.”

A union official who passed the memo to the Huffington Post labeled it a “potentially illegal” effort to suppress speech and said that the local union is examining whether it violates labor law rules. The irony was not lost that a company closing a plant to ship jobs abroad would threaten workers with the possibility of unemployment even after it moved.

First Whirlpool throws loyal employees out of their jobs, then it warns them (for their own good, no doubt) that publicly and legally expressing their feelings could hurt them. Classy.

They demonstrated anyway.