Republic workers' protest gains support

Obama weighs in on the issue
December 7, 2008 9:09:46 PM PST
A group of laid-off workers continued a sit-in at a Chicago factory Sunday.

Sunday was the third day for the labor action at the Republic Window and Doors company on the city's North Side.

"We're not going anywhere. We are committed to this," one man told ABC7 Chicago.

More than 200 employees occupied the factory and warehouse after company officials didn't show up at negotiations brokered by Congressman Luis Gutierrez between Republic Windows and Doors and its bank, Bank of America.

By law, companies are obligated to give employees 60 days notice and 75 days severance pay and health benefits to laid off workers. In this case, the company notified employees Tuesday that they would shut down Friday, and that no severance pay or benefits would be paid out.

"This is not fair what the company is doing to its employees," said Lalo Munoz, who has worked 34 years for the company.

Republic has blamed Bank of America for not extending a line of credit so they can pay up. Bank of America points the finger right back at the company.

Bank of America did receive $25 billion in the government bailout. Congresswomen Jan Shakowsky says the bank has an obligation to the workers.

"These are 300 jobs to save," she said. "This is a product they make that we ought to save, and we want to work out something much better than to just say, 'Bye bye, workers.'"

President-elect Obama also weighed in on the layoffs situation Sunday.

"I think if they have earned these benefits and their pay, these companies need to follow through on their commitments," he said.

Representative Gutierrez says he's concerned that there is something more going on.

"What we've seen in the past is that when they don't want to show their books, it's because they're moving operations to another state, recapitalizing, leaving debt and a lot of pain and misery behind," Gutierrez said.

If that is the case, that would be illegal, and the union is in the process of filing a complaint with the state so that an investigation can begin.

Laid off worker and father of three Armando Robles says he witnessed how, as early as two weeks ago, the company began moving equipment out in the middle of the night.

He says he's in the protest for the long haul.

"They owe me, and I need to feed my family. I will stay 'til the end," he said.

The workers' efforts gained support from people in the Chicago area and across the country. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she was launching an investigation into the closing.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson helped pass out turkeys and food baskets Sunday to workers at the plant.

Jackson called for resistance to a government policy that aids companies but not workers and homeowners.

He also said he had contacted the company's bank and asked it to reconsider.

"These workers deserve their wages, fair notice and health security. This may be the start of a long struggle of workers' resistance, finally. There's been too much silence and too many emails and not enough resistance," Jackson said.

Company officials had no comment for ABC7 Chicago.

Rep. Gutierrez was expected to broker a meeting Monday between the company, the union and Bank of America.


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