Factory Sit-in Supported by Mighty Pols, Including Obama

Employees wage sit-in over unpaid wages

The future President of the United States defended the rights of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday.

Employees there were laid off abruptly last week and have occupied the factory, saying they won't leave until they get the severance and vacation pay they say they're owed.

"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 Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. "What's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."

A group of Chicago aldermen plans to announce that they will introduce an ordinance to cut off city business with Bank of America for withdrawing credit from the company.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich shared a similar sentiment on Monday.  He announced that the state of Illinois "will suspend doing any business with Bank of America" until the company restores credit to the shuttered Republic Windows & Doors company on the North Side.

Blagojevich made the announcement after meeting with former workers who have been staging a sit-in on the factory floor since Friday to protest abruptly losing their jobs. The governor said the state has "hundreds of millions of dollars" in dealings with the bank.

Sen. Dick Durbin joined the workers on Monday, saying that the firings were just the sort of thing that the multi-billion dollar bank bailout was meant to avoid.

Crain's reported that U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez reiterated his solidarity with the protesting workers, saying early Monday that a 4 p.m. meeting arranged for later in the day would address the concerns of workers who have been staging a sit-in on the factory floor of their former Chicago employer to protest abruptly losing their jobs last week.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rep. Jan Schakowsky also met with workers Sunday to try to help broker some kind of compromise between the workers and their employer.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she's investigating the closure of the plant and is concerned with the company's actions.

About 200 employees have been staging the sit-in in shifts since 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. 

Rep. Luis Guiterrez tried to negotiate a deal between Republic owners and representatives of Bank of America Friday, but no one from the window company showed up for the meeting.

The company, which has been in business since 1965, told employees Wednesday that its main lender, Bank of America, had canceled its line of credit due to a severe downturn in business at the plant, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The Illinois WARN Act, signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2004, requires employers to give 60 days notice to employees and their unions, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Bureau of Workforce Development and the Illinois Department of Labor, of a plant closing or mass layoff.

"We aren't animals," says Apolinar Cabrera, a 17-year employee of Republic Windows, is quoted by ChiTownDailyNews.org. He is also a husband and father of two with another baby on the way. "We're human beings and we deserve to be treated like human beings."

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers officials say the company’s $5 million line of credit was originally opened with LaSalle Bank, which was bought out by Bank of America last year. Bank of America received $25 billion in federal bailout cash, which Republic workers say obliges it to support the company.

In a statement issued late Friday, Bank of America said it couldn't comment on individual clients' situations due to confidentiality obligations. 

"Neither Bank of America nor any other third party lender to the company has the right to control whether the company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitment to its employees," the statement reads.  "Compliance with laws is the obligation of management, board of directors and to a degree controlling shareholders of the company."

According to the Chicago Tribune, Republic sold its massive 348,000-square-foot Goose Island plant to Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in 2006 for $31 million. At the time, Republic had nearly 700 employees.

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