In 2002, people in the town of Galesburg, Illinois, found out they would lose their massive Maytag factory. Employees who had worked at the plant for decades were suddenly jobless. When the plant closed, it was such a shock to the town that, in 2004, then-senatorial candidate Barack Obama mentioned it in an address at the Democratic National Convention.
Author Chad Broughton’s new book “Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities” takes a personal look at what happened when Maytag left Galesburg and reopened in Reynosa, Mexico.
“I played basketball with the manager at the Maytag factory … everybody in town it seemed was connected to that factory,” Broughton says.
Plant workers who had worked in the factory for decades were out of a job, left to find work outside of the only industry they knew. Many Galesburg residents were angered by Maytag’s decision to leave town.
“They were very nationalistic, very patriotic,” Broughton says. “They thought that this was a profoundly unpatriotic thing to do … by this very American company, by this quintessentially American company, Maytag.”
When Maytag relocated to Reynosa, Mexico, the company went from paying American workers $15.14 an hour, to paying Mexican workers $1.10 an hour – workers like Laura Flora, who found herself with few employment options.
“She ended up kind of stuck there,” Broughton says. “So she had to do what she had to do, which was work in these abundant low-skilled jobs, in the maquiladoras,” the assembly plants in Mexico.
But the factory Flora worked in wouldn’t last either. When Whirlpool bought Maytag, they moved the factory yet again, farther south, Broughton says.
In doing his research, Broughton says he’s taken several walks through the now-decaying Maytag factory in Galesburg.
“It’s so big still, even though only one third of it still stands,” Broughton says. “When it was still entirely there, it took more than a mile to walk from one end to the other….”
The dilapidated plant, Broughton say, “feels hollow now.”
Read an excerpt from the book here: