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Last Refrigerator Rolls Off GE Appliance Line
Updated August 29, 2016 10:04 AM | Filed under: Business
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(BLOOMINGTON) - The last side-by-side refrigerator rolled off the Bloomington GE assembly line Friday afternoon.

The Herald Times reports that from the production of the first refrigerator in April 1967 to the plant's final assemble on Friday the workers of GE Appliances' Bloomington Production Operations built 20,801,166 refrigerators.

In the plant's first 32 years, production was booming. The plant produced one million refrigerators by 1974. 21 years later, 10 times that many had been built.

Then, in September 1999, a downward spiral began that ended plant production on Friday.

The plant announced it was moving production to Mexico in 1999 eliminating about 1,400 jobs in Bloomington. On Nov. 16, 2000, GE informed 735 workers they would be laid off before Christmas, and in 2001, more than 900 workers found themselves unemployed. Those remaining knew the future looked grim.

Rumors were flying as the plant celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2007. In January 2008 the plant announced for the first time it intended to close their doors because of a declining market and another 900 workers would be out of work in 2009.

Then on Jan. 29, 2009, GE announced that it intended to stay open beyond the first quarter of 2010, thanks to tax credits for companies producing energy-efficient appliances.

On July 28, 2009 190 of the remaining 720 employees would lose their jobs by fall. In 2010, the union voted to approve wage concessions in exchange for major factory investments. GE later announced $161 million in plant upgrades and product line redesigns -- investments that never happened.

In September 2013, GE announced a one-third workforce reduction. The 522 remaining employees would be whittled down to about 391 by the end of October because of declined sales of the side-by-side refrigerators .

In September 2014, GE Appliances announced its intent to sell the company to the Swedish Electrolux company for $3.3 billion. On July 1, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to stop the sale, citing it would create a "duopoly." Amid GE retirees' protests of significant reductions in company health care benefits, Chinese appliance maker Haier bought GE's appliance division for $5.6 billion.

For the second time in the plant's history, GE announced on June 15 that it intended to shut down the Bloomington operation, this time resulting in the loss of 329 jobs. For 60 days, the company bargained with the union, and finally, GE confirmed the closure on Aug. 11.

The plant closed Friday.

Under the plant-closing agreement, hourly employees will receive 90 percent of their base wages and unreduced company benefits until June 15, 2017, without having to work. Plant closing benefits also include health care and re-training options. Union and company spokesmen have said that 94 percent of the hourly workforce will be able to retire with a pension and health benefits.

On Thursday afternoon, the last refrigerator passed through the assembly line, and on Friday morning, the final unit cleared the assembly line. Workers were treated to a steak lunch, with friends and family present.

The final refrigerator temporarily will be displayed in the plant's lobby until it is moved to GE headquarters in Louisville.

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