by Max Brantley
Sort of ironic. The day after Whirlpool announced closure of its big plant in Fort Smith, with the
remaining side-by-side refrigerator work going to Mexico, comes news that a Mexican firm is buying O.K. Industries, the Fort Smith-based poultry company. Terms not disclosed. The unit will continue to operate as O.K.
PS — Ken Aden, Democratic candidate for 3rd District Congress, has issued a statement on the Whirlpool closure that gets to the meat of many issues in the U.S. today.
"The news yesterday that Whirlpool will be closing it's plant in Fort Smith is horrible, but it's hardly a surprise. Whirlpool has been shifting jobs out of that facility for years. In 2006, the plant employed 4600 people in the Fort Smith area. Today it employs none. To those who lost their jobs, I can offer only my heartfelt sympathy for you and your families. Whirlpool's decision years ago to shift more and more of it's production to Mexico is a direct result of the kind of disastrous trade deals that keep exporting middle class jobs to other countries—and are supported by my opponent.
I think it's important to keep this closure in mind when you look at the increase in revenues and profits, year over year, that Whirlpool reported today. This wasn't an issue of an unprofitable plant, this was an issue of squeezing more profit out of cheaper labor overseas. This is, of course, wildly inconsistent with the company's statement that the reason for closing the plant was lack of demand—leading some to question whether the move was really about sales or about the slightly higher costs of skilled American labor. Count me among those asking that question and doubting seriously that this was anything other than a large manufacturer abandoning the people who've made it successful for decades.
While Whirlpool won't admit it, the real issue is reducing manufacturing costs and the easiest, most tax beneficial way, is to take advantage of manufacturing outside of the US. It's hard not to excuse Whirlpool for taking advantage of loopholes granted to them by Congress and members of congress like Steve Womack. All that's left for the people of Fort Smith is getting rid of the people who put those loopholes in place in the name of free—not fair—trade.
My opponent's recent vote for three more of President Obama's job-killing free trade agreements was one of the most inexcusable of his short tenure in Congress, given the desperate employment situation in his own district with manufacturing employment down more than 36% since 2000. While his constituents suffered, Womack voted to make it easy for their employers, some of whom were contributors to his campaigns, to move their jobs. He then talked about all the cheap goods that free trade brings, without mentioning the difficulty the unemployed have in buying products—like refrigerators—without an income from a job.
The people of the 3rd District are already hurting. Their best option at this point is to make sure they do the only thing left to them: fire Rep. Womack next year. They need to remember when they go to the polls his stand with the President and against this district on job-killing free trade agreements, and his desire to continue to give massive tax breaks to his millionaire friends and donors, while doing nothing for his constituents. The people of this district must finally realize that when Steve Womack had the opportunity to really create and save jobs in Northwest Arkansas, he put partisan politics above people."