No Jobs, No Peace!

Laid off employees of a Chicago factory refuse to leave the building

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    WSNS
    Republic Windows and Doors employees protested last month in front of the Bank of America building. Now they're staging a sit-in at the company's plant to demand they get what they're owed.

    Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.

    About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began their sit-in Friday, the last scheduled day of the plant's operation. On Saturday, about 50 workers could be seen through a window sitting on chairs and pallets on the factory floor. Reporters were asked to stay out of the plant's work area.

    "We're going to stay here until we win justice," said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, after occupying the building for several hours. Speaking in Spanish, Funes said she fears losing her home without the wages she feels she's owed. A 13-year employee of Republic, she estimated her family can make do for three months without her paycheck. Most of the factory's workers are Hispanic.

    Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days' notice required by law before shutting down.

    Workers also were angered when company officials didn't show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, Fried said.

    During the peaceful takeover, workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building, Fried said.

    "We're doing something we haven't since the 1930s, so we're trying to make it work," Fried said.

    Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

    Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

    Crain's Chicago Business reported that the company's monthly sales had fallen to $2.9 million from $4 million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had "no choice but to shut our doors."

    Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

    On Sunday, the president-elect, Chicagoan Barack Obama indicated support for the workers.

    "When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right," Obama said at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. "What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."