Chicago, Cook County threaten to cut ties with Bank of America over Republic workers

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CHICAGO — City aldermen and Cook County commissioners vowed to cut ties with Bank of America if it didn't give 250 sit-in strikers the pay they were due. Workers occupying the Republic Windows and Doors factory, labor and religious leaders and community activists flanked the elected officials at City Hall.

The workers began occupying the factory Dec. 5 after Bank of America refused a $5 million line of credit to the company, which was then forced to close. The workers are owed at least $1.6 million in vacation and severance pay and health benefits. Refusal by the company to meet with the workers sparked the takeover.

'We stand in solidarity with the workers peacefully occupying the factory. Bank of America received $34 billion from the Federal Government for the bailout. They are not using it to issue new loans, but instead to buy other assets and expand their financial empire, said Alderman Joe Moore, who was joined by 14 other Aldermen. 'We can refuse to do business with Bank of America, withdraw all our funds and deposits and make no zoning changes until BA treats these workers right.'

Speakers said it was outrageous that BA had been profited so much off business with the city and yet left the company and workers high and dry. They called for an investigation, including by the mass media, into how Bank of America was spending the bailout money.

'They are using it to invest in companies overseas, said Alderman Scott Waguespack. 'All we ask is that they invest in workers here. Put the money back into Republic and let the workers get the money they have coming.'

Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley also announced he was introducing an ordinance that will require the county to stop doing business with Bank of America. Currently the County has over $368 million in investments and deposits with the Bank.

Speakers said the action by Bank of America represents everything that is wrong with the current federal bailout program. They said if an economic recovery were to take place money must get into the hands of working people.

'What's wrong is when you have an economy where all the money is going to the top. The bailout just made things worse. People need money so they can have purchasing power,' said Carl Rosen, Western region president of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers Union, which represents the workers.

'The Republic workers said enough is enough and the country paid attention. We are very pleased President Elect Obama said the workers were 'absolutely right' to demand what is theirs. Come January there will be a new day. Our elected officials better pay attention to what's happening in America,' said Rosen.

'There's a bigger issue here. What is this economic recovery about? Is it top down or bottom up? Are we going to give it to the bankers who got us in this mess or to the workers from the bottom up?' asked Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1. 'I'm so proud of these workers that they would stood up so early. And we are standing up to let it be known this is not the type of recovery we want. It's got to be from the bottom up.'

Several speakers noted the factory could easily be retooled to manufacture windows and doors like those proposed under President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus package to insulate America's homes and offices and save energy.

Rosen said the company is not absolved of wrongdoing. The company has received millions of dollars in TIFF money from the city. He said the union has evidence Republic plans to move its operation to Iowa and reopen it without the union, with lower wages and benefits. The union has pledged to fight the move.

The workers expressed their gratitude for all the solidarity they are receiving. Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 union president said the workers were not just fighting for themselves but for all workers everywhere.

'We are just fighting for what is just. We stood up because the company didn't pay us. We want what we deserve. We would like them to reopen the plant, under new owners we can work with,' said Robles.

Another worker Ron Bender said, 'People have been down for so long they are scared to stand up. They just take what comes. The working people are the backbone of this country. This makes me feel great and hopeful. I know something will be done.'

'Chicago has a lot to be proud of, said Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin. 'We are proud of President-elect Obama, the Congress Hotel strikers and now the Republic workers. They have made the decision to stand up for what is right. They have received across the board support and it will continue until they get justice.'

An action is being planned for Wed. Dec. 10 at the Bank of America headquarters, 231 S LaSalle St. in support of the Republic workers and for a people's bailout.