Talks Fail to End Sit-In at Closed Factory
CHICAGO — As workers at a window-making plant here prepared to spend a fourth night in the factory they had been told to leave for good, union leaders, bankers and company owners met into the night on Monday but the meetings ended without bringing about an end to the workers’ peaceful but increasingly tense occupation of the plant.
The layoff of 250 workers last week at Republic Windows and Doors on the North Side with only three days’ warning and without pay the workers say is owed to them had, by Monday, drawn the attention of nearly every politician with a connection to this city, numerous union and workers’ rights groups and scores of ordinary people, who arrived at the plant offering families toys, food and money.
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who met with the workers Monday morning, said the State of Illinois was suspending its business with the Bank of America, Republic Windows’ lenders, and that the Illinois Department of Labor was poised to file a complaint over the plant closing if need be. Political leaders on the Chicago City Council and in Cook County threatened similar actions. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez said he was encouraging the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice to investigate. “Families are already struggling to keep afloat,” Mr. Blagojevich said.
Workers here say they blame the operators of Republic Windows and Doors, a manufacturing company that was founded in 1965, for giving them just three days’ notice before closing last Friday, with no earlier hints to the employees that orders for vinyl windows and sliding doors had fallen off.
Late Monday, the company released a statement that indicated that it had known since at least mid-October that it intended to close the factory by January. The statement suggested that it had gone back and forth with Bank of America for more than a month, but that the bank had rejected several of its “wind down” plans as well as the company’s request for financing to pay workers’ owed vacation.
The statement also revealed that the family of Richard Gillman, once a minority shareholder who in 2006 and 2007 bought out Republic, last month formed a new window business — Echo Windows LLC. All along, workers here said they feared the owners were shutting down to reopen a cheaper operation somewhere else. A trade publication reported last week that Echo had recently bought a window manufacturing plant in Red Oak, Iowa. No one from Republic could be reached for comment.
“It is looking like reopening is exactly what happened,” said Tara Taffera, the editor and publisher of the publication, Door and Window Manufacturing magazine.
The company’s statement said it had been placed, “in the impossible position of not having the ability to further reduce fixed costs, coupled with severe constrictions in the capital debt markets and an unwillingness of the current debt holder to continue funding the operations.”
The workers here also blamed Bank of America for preventing the owners from paying its workers for already-earned vacation time and severance. Workers here said the owners told them last week that Bank of America had cut off the company’s credit line and would not allow payments.
As part of government bailout efforts for the struggling banking industry, Bank of America has received $15 billion, and is expected to receive an additional $10 billion. That fact left many workers here seething.
“Taxpayers would like to see that bailout money go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s,” said Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. “This is outrageous.” […]