Students and faculty assemble survey of factory workers

The Maytag Project: Knox Professors, Students Study Former Factory Workers

Former manufacturing plant workers surveyed, profiled in local newspaper

March 14, 2011

The Maytag Project Key Personnel
Project and Editorial Director:
Marilyn Webb, Distinguished Professor of Journalism
Principal Data Analyst:
Richard Stout, Professor of Economics
Social Research Associate:
Diana Beck, Professor of Educational Studies
Assistant Editorial and Data Director:
Ryan Sweikert '10
All Maytag Project stories © Copyright Marilyn Webb

Knox College students and faculty have investigated what happened to former employees of Maytag's Galesburg refrigeration plant. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs when the plant closed in 2004. Now, researchers at Knox College have reached out to the displaced workers, hoping to find out how the workers fared after the closure. The survey asked questions about education, current employment, and the former workers' life satisfaction both before and after the closure.

The project grew out of a Knox College journalism course last year in which students profiled nine former Maytag employees. Developed in consultation with several former Maytag employees, the survey was written by Knox faculty in sociology, economics, and education. The research project was spearheaded by Marilyn Webb, distinguished professor of journalism and chair of Knox's journalism program. Richard Stout, professor of economics and chair of Knox's economics department served as principal data analyst. Photography instructor Mike Godsil '76 and '04, directed photography of the participants who were profiled. Knox graduate Ryan Sweikert '10 served as assistant data and editorial director. An advisory group of former Maytag employees offered assistance in developing the survey questions.

According to The Register-Mail, 902 union workers were displaced when the plant closed. Of those, surveys were sent to 425 selected at random. 133 surveys were returned. Over the summer and fall of 2010, the researchers analyzed the survey results and interviewed former workers about their experience since the closure.

The project was supported by a gift from Robert Borzello, a 1958 Knox graduate and publisher in England noted for his work on ethics in news reporting. Three Knox students were awarded study stipends as Borzello Fellows in Journalism to work on the project.

Starting in the 1930s, the plant manufactured refrigerators for a series of owners, including Admiral, Rockwell International, Magic Chef and, starting in 1986, Maytag. During the 1990s, as many as 2,700 workers were employed at the plant. In 2002, Maytag announced that the plant would close, as it shifted refrigerator production to Mexico and South Korea.

The survey results and several profiles of former Maytag employees were published during the week of March 6, 2011, in The Register-Mail.

Extended versions of several profiles and features on the research results are posted below.

Are you a former Maytag employee? We want to hear from you. Take the survey now, or send your story to Marilyn Webb.

Take the survey now (PDF).

Share your story by sending an e-mail to Marilyn Webb.

Maytag Project Stories:

Richard StoutSurvey Results and Methodology: Economics professor Richard Stout explains how the survey was designed, how the data was gathered, and what kinds of conclusions can be drawn from the Maytag Project.

Rebecca BenoReinvention of Self: Student Rebecca Beno gives an overview of the Maytag Project, which included a designing a survey of former factory workers, a series of features on what the survey revealed, and in-depth profiles of several ex-Maytag employees.

Andrea HoulihanNo Quick Fixes for Lost Jobs: Student Andrea Houlihan reports on both the positive effects and the limitations of job retraining programs offered to former Maytag employees.

Sarah JuistBetrayed by the 'American Dream'? Student Sarah Juist looks at the three major factors influencing how former Maytag workers felt after the plant closing: job satisfaction, current income and age.

Ben ReevesChanging Economic Fortunes: Student Ben Reeves speaks with former Maytag workers about the economic effects of the factory closing, and the importance of having the "drive to adapt and create their own future."

Kylee NorvilleA Loss of Community: Student Kylee Norville reports that while former Maytag workers miss income and health benefits, the sense of community they once had is perhaps one of the deepest losses of all.

Jenneke OostmanLife Satisfaction: Student Jenneke Adriana Oostman reports that Maytag workers enjoyed friendships, income, and pride in the job; and those who recreated that in new jobs after the closing still have a high level of life satisfaction.

Nathan WilliamsMen or Women: Who Does Better After Maytag?  Student Nathan Williams takes a look at the differences in income levels between men and women during their Maytag years -- and today.

John EskridgeProfile - John Eskridge: Being laid off from the Maytag plant allowed John Eskridge to devote more time to his former side jobs as an auctioneer and antiques appraiser.

Barrie SchafferProfile - Barrie Schaffer: Some people retire at age 60. That's when Barrie Schaffer lost her Maytag job. Started college, but couldn't afford  to finish. She found a job she enjoys, working at a non-profit home for the mentally disabled.

Allison EhrhardLoss of Health Insurance: Student Alison Ehrhard examines the effects of losing employer-based health insurance; one-third of former Maytag workers say that they now have no insurance, while others say they're paying more than they used to.

Mark SemandeWhat the Future Holds for Aging Maytag Workers: Mark Semande told The Maytag Project that the factory closing "allowed me to find a job I liked more and earn more money." But student reporter Ryan Sweikert also writes that unemployment rose with age of the laid-off workers.

Melissa BowlingProfile - Melissa Bowling: Working at Maytag, Melissa Bowling watched the engineers and said to herself, "I can do that." After the factory closed, she went back to school for a degree in machine drafting and is now designing fire engines.

Rebecca NottProfile - Rebecca Nott: After the Maytag factory closing in 2004, Rebecca Nott studied to be a medical secretary. She found the job she really loved was working in the garden department of a local hardware store.

Jenn LloydEducation is Key to Future: Student writer Jenn Lloyd reports on former Maytag workers, many of whom believe that even as people invest more in their education, jobs that pay comparable to the refrigerator factory are getting harder to find.