CHICAGO – “The occupation is over,” said factory worker Armando Robles to reporters here late Dec. 10, amid a celebratory crowd of his fellow co-workers that chanted, “Yes we did.”
“We have achieved victory,” added Robles who is president of Local 1110 with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America who has been representing over 250 workers that led a six-day sit-in and occupation at the Republic Windows and Doors factory on the city’s northside.
“We said we will not go until we got justice and we have it,” said Robles.
The workers, union leaders, Republic management and its lenders Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase agreed on a $1.75 million settlement ending the occupation where the Chicago workers cause became a symbol of unity, hope and struggle for labor rights nationwide.
Each worker is expected to receive eight weeks salary, all accrued vacation pay and two months paid health care. The workers occupied their work site after the company violated federal law when the workers were given three-day notice that the factory would be closing down.
Federal labor laws require 60 days’ notice in case of plant closings and large layoffs. Republic owners said it needed to shut down the factory because their main credit lender Bank of America had cut off it’s expected financing. Bank of America recently received a $25 billion bailout package from the federal government but decided it wouldn’t go to keep manufacturing operations running.
Anger grew among the workers after they found out that Republic owners formed a new company and bought a new plant in Iowa, where apparently labor costs are less expensive. Meanwhile the workers vowed to fight and they occupied the Chicago factory until they were granted assurances they would receive the money owed to them.
Finally after three days and close to 20 hours of negotiations a deal was made.
Support poured in from all parts of the country. Workers, both union and non-union, community groups, religious organizations, small businesses, immigrant rights groups, elected officials, Chicago’s city council, state leaders and the President-elect were among the many who spoke out in favor of the workers.
Prior to the deal and earlier in the day on Dec. 10 several hundred people marched in support of the Republic workers in front of Chicago’s downtown Bank of America building at the heart of the city’s financial district.
Demonstrators said the banks failure to act on behalf of the workers was an example of corporate greed, which is the major cause of the current U.S. economic crisis leaving hard working people out in the cold.
Many of the Republic workers were present at the rally including Heribeto Bernabe who is originally from Michoacán, Mexico and has worked at the factory for the last 20 years. Speaking to the World in Spanish Bernabe said the workers are 90 percent Latino.
Along with several of his co-workers Bernabe said he was at the rally because given the current economic conditions throughout the country workers like him deserve what he is owed from the company.
“I don’t think I would want to work for the company again,” said Bernabe. “They don’t respect anybody. They told us on Wednesday that Friday was our last day with no vacation pay. They just put us out on the street because they claimed they did not have the money to pay us. But we know that they bought another factory in Iowa,” he said.
Bernabe added, “For us this movement is really important especially to fight against injustice.” Bernabe said he would finish fighting for his rights till the end and then he will look for new employment. “I have hope that I will find a new job,” he said.
Felipe Pillado is from Guerrero, Mexico and has worked at the factory for the last 10 years and said his biggest support comes from his wife and two kids.
“We the workers are an example for all working men and women who have come together and united for our basic rights,” said Pillado.
Another worker, Fanor Benabidez, who is also Mexican, has worked for the company for 7 years and said he and his co-workers are very happy with all the support they have received nationwide. “And we are especially happy that we have Obama’s support because it gives us courage that we are going to win. And this will be a win for all workers,” noted Benabidez.
Job With Justice organized the action and it’s allies during a week of action that included rallies nationwide calling for a people’s bailout. Speakers at the Chicago demonstration called primarily for the support of the Chicago workers but also connected their struggle to other important issues such as creating green jobs, a moratorium on evictions linked to foreclosures, the right to health care and housing and retirement security.
“Workers are sticking together and fighting back and we don’t have to take it anymore,” said Fran Tobin with Jobs With Justice. “We need a people’s bailout, not a Wall Street bailout,” he said.
Bob Kingsley, UE director of organization said the sit-down and occupation tactic dates back to the origins of the labor movement.
“Our creed is that we wage an aggressive struggle for workers everyday because it’s a matter of economic justice,” said Kingsley. “These Chicago workers are the face of the suffering working class today. But more importantly they are the face of resistance,” he added.
“It’s not right that CEO’s and banks are put first and not working families,” said Kingsley. “Something is wrong, things have to change and they have to begin somewhere and it’s beginning right here in Chicago.”
Raul Flores, one of the factory workers and union member addressed the crowd.
“This cause is for all workers and we will not break the chain,” said Flores. “We are workers and we deserve respect because it is us the workers that are America and we will be united and stand together no matter where we come from,” noted Flores.
Union officials have created a foundation to collect donations in the attempt to keep the factory open and allow the workers to retain their jobs.
plozano @ pww.org