About 1,500 people, many carrying signs reading "Save our jobs" or "Make it in America," gathered outside a Whirlpool Corp. refrigerator plant in Evansville Friday to protest the company's plans to shutter the factory and move its jobs to Mexico.
Vanderburgh County sheriff's deputies shut down one lane of U.S. Highway 41 as the crowd carrying American flags and protest signs lined up outside the southwestern Indiana plant.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America President Jim Clark joined about 40 other protesters in delivering a petition to the factory's front door asking that the plant not be closed.
The entire group then marched to a nearby union hall, where Trumka called on political leaders to pass a jobs bill to address the loss of manufacturing jobs nationwide.
"Eleven million jobs have gone with the great recession. Nothing, nothing, is more important here at this moment," Trumka told a packed room at the Local 808 chapter of the IUE-CWA, which represents many of the workers at Whirlpool's Evansville plant.
He said national leaders have too often let jobs slip away with their policies and now it's up to them to undo the harm with a jobs program "to rebuild the foundation of our society and restore our middle class."
Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool announced in August that it would lay off 1,100 Evansville production workers and move its freezer-topped refrigerator and icemaker production to Mexico. The first layoffs are expected March 26.
The company has said its 300 or so Evansville design employees—mostly engineers—will keep their jobs.
Local union leaders and some workers said the factory is being closed because of corporate greed.
"It's not wrong to make a profit, but let's not turn our backs on the people who made it for us," said Tony Lee, an 18-year plant employee who joined Friday's protest.
Whirlpool officials discouraged the plant's workers from taking part in the protest, saying their actions could hurt Whirlpool employees as they seek new jobs.
Dave Wedding, chief deputy for the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, said there were no problems during Friday's protest other than traffic congestion. Deputies estimated the crowd at about 1,500 people at its peak.
"The public perception of us hasn't always been good, but this is a peaceful demonstration that shows all we want are jobs," said Mike Nixon, a steel worker from Decatur, Ill. "We want to live like everyone else."