Republic Windows & Doors employee Raul Flores (center) speaks to a crowd of more than 500 people during a rally held earlier this month outside Bank of America’s headquarters in Chicago’s Financial District. (Toussaint Losier photo)
CHICAGO — Laid-off workers at recently shuttered Republic Windows and Doors ended their six-day factory occupation late last Wednesday night, claiming victory in negotiations with their employers and its bank creditors.
Some 250 members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) unanimously accepted a tentative agreement with the owners of the abruptly-closed factory that they said addressed workers’ demands.
Following the vote, the workers and their supporters streamed out of the factory, chanting “We did it” and “Yes we can” in both English and Spanish.
The settlement proved that “you can do anything when you have the support of every one of your co-workers,” said Local President Armando Robles. “This is not a victory just for us. It is a victory for every worker in the country.”
Totaling $1.75 million, the agreement will provide ousted workers with eight weeks of wages owed to them by the company under the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, as well as pay for unused vacation time and two months of continued health coverage.
UE Director of Operations Bob Kingsley described the historic settlement as “a win for all working men and women who face uncertainty, unfairness and job loss in a troubled economy.”
The workers’ actions within the factory on this city’s Near North Side, which for years had assembled high-quality sliding doors and vinyl windows, attracted national attention last week.
The occupation began on Friday, Dec. 5. Union members unanimously voted to stage a sit-in at the workplace after Republic’s owners had provided only three days’ notice that the factory would be closing and the company would be financially unable to meet its severance obligations to all those laid off.
The following day, over 200 Chicago-area labor activists and religious leaders attended a spirited rally outside the Republic factory. With placards reading “You got bailed out, We got sold out” and “Don’t Steal Christmas,” speakers expressed frustration not only with their employer, but also the company’s primary creditor, Bank of America, arguing that the bank’s refusal to extend Republic a line of credit had caused the company to suddenly close the factory.
The protestors were particularly chafed that the bank would take such a position after receiving $25 billion from the U.S. Department of the Treasury as part of the federal bank bailout.
After the rally, several workers spoke candidly about not only their frustration and surprise at their employer, but also their fears about how to make ends meet as they face the prospect of being jobless.
“This is such a surprise,” said Lalo Munez, an employee with 34 years’ experience on the factory line. “It’s like they just want to throw us away and get new people with low salaries and no benefits.”
Not going to happen, said Silvia Mazon, a mother of two and a screen worker with 17 years of line experience.(p2)
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