CHICAGO — Religious leaders and board members with the Interfaith Worker Justice rallied here in front of the Republic Windows and Doors factory Dec. 9 in solidarity with 250 unionized workers who have been leading a sit-in there since the plant closed down on Dec. 5.
“We’re here to stand with these workers to support them in their struggle for justice,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson to the World. Johnson is co-president and board member of the Interfaith Worker Justice and is also the vice-president of the Pulpit Forum in Greensboro, N.C.
“And we’re here to specifically help the workers get the payments and respect that they deserve, and to retain their jobs,” added Johnson.
“People need to work and this is no time for the banks or the company to betray the interests of the American people who made this [bailout] money available for moments precisely like this one that should directly benefit the workers here,” said Johnson.
The 45-year-old company makes vinyl windows for the home construction market and closed abruptly because Bank of America, it’s chief investor, refused to extend a $5 million line of credit. BA recently received a $25 billion bailout from the federal government.
The workers who are represented by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110 have staged a sit-in at the factory since Dec. 5 and say they are owed $1.6 million in vacation and severance pay and health benefits the company has refused to pay.
The Rev. Paul Sherry from Cleveland, Ohio and former president of the United Church of Christ said to the World, “All religions believe in justice and we believe that a severe injustice is taking place at this time with these workers.”
Sherry added, “To be true to our principles we cannot be at any other place than here right now to show our support for these workers.”
Sherry said he is very excited and very stimulated how people here and around the country are responding to this struggle to help fight for the workers. “The courage of these men and women who have stood up to this injustice is quite remarkable,” he noted.
Many of the faith-based leaders said they are disappointed that $25 billion bailout money has gone to the Bank of America while the workers protesting for their rights are standing out on the streets with their pockets empty.
Labor leaders were also at the rally including a representative with the United Auto Workers, who despite the recent struggles autoworkers are facing and their on-going battle, presented the Chicago workers at the factory with a $5,000 check.
“This struggle is too common and if the workers don’t stand up then who will,” said the UAW rep. to the crowd. “We’re tired of being ignored and workers across the country need to join together and unite, join a union and help us take back America,” he added.
Executive Director with the Interfaith Worker Justice Kim Bobo said, “This is a classic example of wage theft and we stand here together with these workers and call this exactly what it is. A sin.”
“Give them their money back,” shouted Bobo.
Fran Tobin with Jobs With Justice reminded people, “This is not the only factory being closed down in the U.S.” Tobin added, “We know that we need a people’s bailout not a Wall Street first bailout.”
As the press conference was occurring union officials, workers, company employers and the Bank of America were preparing to meet again to continue talks to try and solve this problem that has caught national headlines.
Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 union president and leader of the sit-in summed up the workers’ commitment to continue fighting for their rights.
“We are united,” said Robles. “We are America and we are going to continue to fight,” he said.
Meanwhile Bank of America announced late Dec. 9 that it would provide a “limited amount” of additional loans to the company.