GE Appliances is moving the Zoneline hotel air-conditioner production from Louisville to a Tennessee factory complex where the company also will produce upscale Monogram refrigerators and freezers.
While the company and Tennessee economic development officials described the $9.3 investment at Selmer, Tennessee, as a win-win for that state and the appliance maker, Appliance Park’s union chief decried the move as a big loss for Louisville — and indicated he’s exploring a formal complaint to federal labor regulators.
“I’m devastated about what’s happened” with the Zoneline, said Dana Crittenden, president of IUE-CWA Local 83761. More crucial is “what’s the big plan for Appliance Park?”
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GE Appliances, which was purchased about 14 months ago by China-based Haier Group, announced plans in May to shift production of the Zoneline to another factory and send 140 workers into other positions.
A key for GE was freeing space for parts supplier Derby Supply Chain Solutions to return to Appliance Park after a massive fire in April 2015 leveled the building Derby Supply Chain had occupied. The contractor set up operations in Bullitt County.
The appliance maker didn’t say then where Zoneline was headed — although some union members said recently that managers were negotiating with other states.
Early this week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and state Economic Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said a Haier-owned facility in Selmer, in southwestern Tennessee, had won the Zoneline business as part of a larger $9.3 million expansion of refrigeration manufacturing for the Monogram.
The expansion means 210 jobs, bringing the workforce there to about 400. The subsidiary Monogram factory has been in that community 90 miles east of Memphis since the late 1980s.
Related: Haier pulling Zoneline work from GE Appliance Park
GE Appliances spokeswoman Kim Freeman said in an email that it would have cost an estimated $13 million to add a building or expand another to keep Zoneline at Appliance Park. “Either way, it was cost prohibitive as we would still have had to make the product investments on top of the cost of a new structure.”
Instead, the company will add 120,000 square feet to an existing building in Selmer where Monogram will build a new line of column-style refrigerators and freezers as well as the Zoneline air conditioners often used in hotels. The 210 jobs will include production technicians, skilled trades and professional employees.
Crittenden didn’t elaborate on why the union is considering an action with the National Labor Relations Board. But he’s been increasingly outspoken about his concerns over the loss of production and jobs in Louisville.
Tennessee’s grants and incentives tipped the scales in favor of relocating the business, he said, but what’s next?
GE Appliances previously shut down its hybrid water heater production after seeing a drop in demand and market share. Managers also outsourced a warehouse and distribution center that disbursed 200 workers to other jobs at the park.