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Whirlpool President whitewashes its corporate practices in GR speech

May 3, 2010

Today, the Economic Club of Grand Rapids hosted a luncheon event featuring Marc Bitzer, the new President of Whirlpool North America. The event was also the kick-off for this year’s World Trade Week, an annual event co-sponsored by dozens of corporations, trade associations and pro-business entities.

The promotional material for the luncheon speaker says, “What truly distinguishes Whirlpool Corporation is the commitment to building strong brands and a loyal consumer base.  Around the globe, customers trust Whirlpool to make their lives easier. Everything is done to contribute to building unmatched levels of loyalty to its brands through lifelong relationships with customers.

The speaker begins by saying that the Whirlpool Corporation was founded in 1911, in St. Joseph, Michigan by the Upton family. The audience then watches a short promotional video, which touts the company as a “global leader,” “committed to sustainability” and “community service.”

Bitzer says that Whirlpool still has 12 production facilities in the US and “is committed to maintaining an industrial base in this country.” He also said the company is committed to “open trade policies” and opposed to protectionism. The rest of the talk was mostly about their product line and their focus on continued growth.

What Bitzer did not mention was the recent elimination of jobs around the US, most recently in Indiana, where the kitchen appliance giant dismissed hundreds of workers. The rational for the jobs cuts was a familiar mantra, the company needed to stay competitive. Labor groups challenged these claims, especially since the company received nearly $20 million from the federal government’s economic stimulus plan.

When workers at the Indiana plant organized to protest the job loss and it was reported that the company engaged in some potentially illegal tactics. In 2008, Whirlpool got rid of 300 workers from its world headquarters in St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan.

However, job elimination isn’t the only negative thing that Whirlpool engages in. The company has used its political and economic power to influence policies on a national level by its campaign donations. In Michigan, the company throws its weight around with its political connections to Congressman Fred Upton, whose family founded the company nearly 100 years ago.

Closer to home, Whirlpool is notorious for determining the fate of politics in the St. Joseph/Benton Harbor area. Whirlpool has been accused of financing the political campaigns of people on city councils and even the courts.

The Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO) refers to the racial dynamics between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph as a form of apartheid, where Blacks who live in Benton Harbor and excluded from any really economic benefits that mostly White residents of St. Joseph. With the backing of the Whirlpool Corporation, the legal authorities in St. Joseph have targeted one of the organizers with BANCO, Rev. Pinkney. Pinkney has been fighting a legal battle for years and was even sentenced to serve time in jail on bogus charges.

In the past two years there has been an organized boycott of Whirlpool and all its subsidiaries (Amana, Estate, Gladiator Garage Works, Insperience, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Magic Chef, Maytag, Roper, Acros, Inglis, Bauknecht, Brastemp, Admiral, IKEA appliances, some Kenmore). The boycott is a response to the latest efforts by Whirlpool to take property along the lakeshore in Benton Harbor to develop it for a golf course and numerous resorts.

As we noted earlier, Whirlpool makes the claim that their products make our lives easier. Apparently, this is not the case for some Whirlpool workers and the residents of Benton Harbor.

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