Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Standoff

The sit-in at Republic Windows & Doors gets some important support.

Workers occupying a Chicago factory that closed abruptly last week gained a significant political ally Monday in their fight to receive back benefits, when Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) ordered state agencies to stop doing business with Bank of America until it uses some of its federal bailout money to keep the factory open.

The standoff at Republic Windows & Doors, which began Friday, has been a throwback to tactics hardly seen since the 1930s that labor experts and union leaders say may become more common if the economy continues its downturn.

More than 200 unionized employees say they will not allow Republic or its creditor, Bank of America, to remove equipment from the factory until they get severance and vacation pay they are owed. Their union alleges that Republic violated federal law by giving its workers only three days’ notice before shutting down. Workers were told the company was closing because Bank of America did not extend it enough credit to keep operating.

The sit-in has garnered support from a number of Illinois Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama. “I think they’re absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday, adding: “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy…. These workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.”

Blagojevich said the state will withhold business worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars from Bank of America unless it steps in to help the workers. “We hope that this kind of leverage and pressure will encourage Bank of America to do the right thing for this business,” the governor said outside the plant.

After all, it is the worker’s money — both the benefits and the bailout — that the bank is messing with.

The workers aren’t asking for a handout; they’re just asking for what’s owed them. And it is amazingly refreshing to hear a governor and a president-elect who will actually stand up for the employees and hold the corporations responsible for their commitments.