Workers Occupy Factory
December 6, 2008
WORKERS OCCUPYING the Republic Windows & Doors factory slated for closure
are vowing to remain in the Chicago plant until they win the $1.5 million
in severance and vacation pay owed them by management.
In a tactic rarely used in the U.S. since the labor struggles of the
1930s, the workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine
Workers of America (UE) Local
1110, refused to leave the plant on December 5, its last scheduled day of
"We decided to do it because this is money that belongs to us," said Maria
Roman, who's worked at the plant for eight years. "These are our rights."
Word of the occupation spread quickly both among labor and immigrant
rights activists--the overwhelming majority of the workers are Latinos.
Seven local TV news stations showed up to do interviews and live reports,
and a steady stream of activists arrived to bring donations of food and
money and to plan solidarity actions.
Management claims that it can't continue operations because its main
creditor, Bank of America (BoA), refuses to make any more loans to the
company. After workers picketed BoA headquarters December 3, bank
officials agreed to sit down with Republic management and UE to discuss
the matter at a December 5 meeting arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez
(D-Ill), said UE organizer Leah Fried.
BoA had said that it couldn't discuss the matter with the union directly
without written approval from Republic's management. But Republic
representatives failed to show up at the meeting, and plant managers
prepared to close the doors for good--violating the federal WARN Act that
requires 60 days notice of a plant closure.
The workers decided this couldn't go unchallenged. "The company and Bank
of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle,"
said Vicente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local
Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of
business--and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers
had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.
Furthermore, while inventory records indicated there were plenty of parts
in the plant, workers on the production line found shortages. And the
order books, while certainly down from the peak years of the housing boom,
didn't square with management's claims of a total collapse. "Where did all
those windows go?" one worker asked.
Workers were especially outraged that Bank of America, which recently
received a bailout in taxpayer money, won't provide credit to Republic.
"They get $25 billion from the government, and won't loan a few million to
this company so workers can keep their jobs?" said Ricardo Caceres, who
has worked at the plant for six years.
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THE MEMBERS of Local 1110 have a history of struggle. In
2004, they decertified the Central States Joint Board--a union notorious
for corruption and sweetheart contracts with management--and brought in
UE, a far more democratic organization.
In May of this year, Local 1110 mobilized for a contract by organizing a
"practice" picket, and 70 workers used their lunch break to confront the
boss with a petition listing their demands. The workers were able to turn
back company's effort to win major concessions and won solid pay
increases.Now, management is trying to get revenge by pocketing money that
belongs to the workers.
UE officials and workers acknowledge that it will be difficult to stop the
plant from closing. But they're determined to get the money owed to
them--and they believe that by fighting, they can set an example for other
workers facing layoffs and plant closures as the recession deepens.
Negotiations are set for Monday, December 8. Whatever happens, however,
the workers have already sent a message to employers that if they violate
workers rights and the law, they can expect a fight.
"This is a message to the workers of America," said Vicente Rangel, the
shop steward. "If we stand together, we will prevail until justice is
done, and we get what we're due."
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What you can do
If you live in the Chicago area, come to a rally on Saturday, December 6,
at 12 Noon at Republic Windows, 1333 N. Hickory in Chicago, on Goose
Island. If negotiations with Bank of America fail to resolve the issue,
there will be a picket of BoA's Chicago headquarters at 231 S. LaSalle on
Tuesday, December 9 at 12 noon.
Members of Local 1110 need your support. Make checks payable to the UE
Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, and mail to:
37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to
firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call UE at 312-829-8300.
At the Jobs with Justice Web site, you can send a message of protest to
Bank of America