By G. PATRICK KELLEY REPOSITORY BUSINESS EDITOR
NORTH CANTON - Hoover production workers overwhelmingly told their union leaders Thursday to keep on exploring the possibility of an employee-owned company.
James Repace, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1985, announced last week that the union was contracting for a feasibility study into options, including a partial employee stock ownership program, partnering workers with equity funds.
The announcement was met with uncertainty by some workers. Rita Tombow was one of those, but she said more information is making a difference. “I think it sounds pretty good,” the 27-year employee said.
So far, most of her fellow workers are confident about employee ownership, but, “It’s pretty fresh. It’s pretty new,” she said. “This is just the first meeting.”
In the first of two information meetings Thursday, no one voted against proceeding with the study, an option workers were given.
“It sends a message that people are interested in keeping this in North Canton,” Repace said after the meeting.
Parent company Maytag Corp. announced last month it is interested in selling Hoover, although it would need approval from Whirlpool Corp. Whirlpool’s proposed purchase of Maytag is going through antitrust scrutiny.
Others are likely interested in Hoover, but “I don’t know who the other bidders are,” Repace said. “I’m sure there are some Asian companies.”
One reason the union is exploring options is the likelihood of a foreign company buying Hoover and taking all production offshore. Hoover also has production facilities in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, that are included in the buyout scenario.
The uncertainty came because “a lot of people had a lot of misunderstanding. They thought we were in a bidding process,” Repace said. “That’s why we’re conducting these meetings. We’re only in the study stage.”
Brett Reed, a 28-year employee, said he likes the idea of studying the buyout, and he believes others are learning more about the plan.
“I’ve heard a lot of negative stuff just because they didn’t understand it,” he said. “But just by the show of hands in there, I think there’s a turnaround. They just have to explain the options.”
Ron Wharton believes Maytag will shut Hoover down eventually, and he’s hoping the buyout might work.
“I think it’ll be worked out in the long term, if they answer the questions the rank and file have,” he said. Worker attitudes are “pretty positive” about the possibility, he said. “There’s a lot to lose and little to gain right now.”
Alton Carter, a 26-year employee, believes the buyout could be “a good thing” because of the work force’s strength and abilities.
“We all voted yes in there,” he said. “We think we can turn it around.”
Reach Repository Business Editor Pat Kelley at
(330) 580-8323 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org