Is it possible to get messages of solidarity to these workers from any workers groups in Spain—or perhaps Argentina or elsewhere?
Chicago factory occupied
Lee Sustar reports from Chicago on an occupation by workers who want what's
theirs from management and the Bank of America.
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 operation.
"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
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 1110.
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
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
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 email@example.com. For more information, call UE at
At the Jobs with Justice Web site, you can send a message of protest to Bank of