Over 300 people gathered in Maytag Park in Newton Monday afternoon to talk about what’s happening at Maytag. Governor Tom Vilsack scheduled the session to discuss Whirlpool’s bid to buy Maytag. “There are concerns that have been expressed about market share and the fact that one company would have a substantial percentage of the American market…but I’m concerned not just about the technical legalities of this, but I’m concerned about the anxiety and stress of the families here in Newton and in the Amana area because until those questions are resolved there is a degree of uncertainty, there is a cloud that hangs over all of us,” Vilsack said. Vilsack has sent a letter to federal regulators, urging quick approval or rejection of the bid on those anti-trust grounds. Congressman Leonard Boswell, a Democrat from Des Moines, told the crowd he’s apprehensive about the situation, and knows many Newton residents are, too. “I’m very concerned about this buy-out, if you will. As I see it from here, I’m not in favor of it,” Boswell says. “it looks like a monopoly to me.” If the deal does go through, Vilsack said the state would offer incentives to try to entice Whirlpool to keep the Newton production plant open. “We have a marketing and selling job that we will have to engage in over the course of the next six to eight months and that marketing job is to remind people at Whirlpool and throughout the nation that there literally are no more productive workers, not just in this nation but in the world, than the folks who work in Iowa and that any company would do well to try to retain and expand jobs in this great state,” Vilsack said. Newton Mayor Chas Allen kicked off the public relations campaign Monday afternoon. “American-made is great. Newton-made is incredible,” Allen said, as the audience applauded. The crowd clapped loudest, though, when long-time Iowa union organizer Chuck Gifford — a former Maytag line worker — took the microphone to criticize Maytag CEO Ralph Hake. “If you’re tired of running this company, Ralph, get the hell out. Resign,” Gifford said. “Let him take his $4.5 million or whatever golden parachute he’s going to get and get the hell out of town…and let’s hire some new management. Let’s go to stockholders and have ’em turn down this offer and let’s get back to makin’ washers and dryers in Newton, Iowa.” Ted Johnson, the president of the UAW local at the Newton plant, said workers just want a fair deal. Five years ago, 2600 people worked in the plant. Now, there are about 1000. “I don’t know how much lower we’re gonna go,” Johnson said. Kay Jackson of Newton worked at the Newton plant for eight-and-a-half years and had a question for the governor. “I just got laid off this weekend and I’m wanting to know what’s going to be available out there other than the schooling,” Jackson asked Vilsack. “My unemployment’s not going to pay for everything. By the time I pay my mortgage and my utilities, there’s nothing left for groceries. What’s out there to help us now?” Vilsack’s Workforce Development director told Jackson there’ll be an open house at Newton’s DMACC campus on Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help people just like her figure out their next move.
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