CLYDE, Ohio — More than half of Whirlpool Corp.'s U.S. manufacturing employees are in Ohio, but company officials say many of those jobs are being threatened by foreign companies selling washing machines in the United States for less than they cost to make.
Late last year, Whirlpool filed petitions with the U.S. Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission alleging that large residential washers made in South Korea and Mexico were being sold for less than their fair value in the United States. In the complaint, the company said the imports have "compromised the economics of Whirlpool's U.S. production of subject washers to the point where Whirlpool's ability to maintain its commitment to expanded U.S. production is very much at risk."
The Commerce Department last week issued a finding that sided with Whirlpool, proposing duties of as much as 71 percent on washers imported from South Korea.
"If someone takes market share from us in a fair way, it's called fair and open competition, we live with that, and what we do is we just toughen up and figure out how to get it back. But when you lose market share or you have risk of losing market share by virtue of unfair competition, then jobs are at risk," Jeff Noel, a Whirlpool spokesman, said Monday.
Whirlpool has about 3,400 employees at its plant in Clyde, where it builds high-efficiency front-loading washing machines. Five of the company's nine U.S. plants are in Ohio, with about 10,000 employees. In addition to Clyde, they are in Findlay, Ottawa, Marion, and Greenville.
The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based appliance maker has found an ally in Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), who toured the Clyde plant Monday.
After the visit, the senator sent a letter to the U.S. Commerce Department, urging it to enforce trade laws and ensure Whirlpool and other U.S. manufacturers have a level playing field.
The letter was co-signed by Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Michigan Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.
"We're not going to change trade policy to assist Whirlpool in this, we're just going to enforce the rules we have," Mr. Brown said Monday after speaking in a plant cafeteria.
"President Obama is the first President since I think Reagan … that's been pretty aggressive at enforcing these policies. We're working every day with Whirlpool to figure out how we do this best to get the information from their competitors and make sure it's accurate. And then we can see, are they cheating? We think they are. We can see what final prices are. We just want to see how they're cheating."
Mr. Brown told Whirlpool workers that tariffs would raise prices somewhat for American consumers, but would protect workers like them.
Whirlpool says more than 80 percent of what it sells in the United States is American-made and that it employs more U.S. workers in its manufacturing plants than all its major competitors combined.
"We're the No. 1 appliance company in the world for a reason," Mr. Noel said. "We are good at what we do, we know the customer, we invest in innovation, we make the best products. But when someone basically practices unfair trade elements, over the long term it has an impact on this business.
"We could have more jobs here if there wasn't dumping taking place. When you don't enforce the rules, U.S. jobs suffer," he added.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: email@example.com or 419-724-6134.