factory occupation in chicago

In our recent pamphlet Strategy for Industrial Struggle Chris Kane argued for the revival of the occupation tactic to resist lay-offs and redundancies in the current recession. It is excellent to see that workers in Chicago are putting such long-lost tactics into action  – from socialistworker.org

WORKERS OCCUPYING the Republic Windows & Doors factory slated for closure are vowing to remain in the Chicago plant until they win the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them by management.

In a tactic rarely used in the U.S. since the labor struggles of the 1930s, the workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave the plant on December 5, its last scheduled day of operation.“We decided to do it because this is money that belongs to us,” said Maria Roman, who’s worked at the plant for eight years. “These are our rights.”

Word of the occupation spread quickly both among labor and immigrant rights activists–the overwhelming majority of the workers are Latinos. Seven local TV news stations showed up to do interviews and live reports, and a steady stream of activists arrived to bring donations of food and money and to plan solidarity actions.

Management claims that it can’t continue operations because its main creditor, Bank of America (BoA), refuses to make any more loans to the company. After workers picketed BoA headquarters December 3, bank officials agreed to sit down with Republic management and UE to discuss the matter at a December 5 meeting arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill), said UE organizer Leah Fried.

BoA had said that it couldn’t discuss the matter with the union directly without written approval from Republic’s management. But Republic representatives failed to show up at the meeting, and plant managers prepared to close the doors for good–violating the federal WARN Act that requires 60 days notice of a plant closure.

The workers decided this couldn’t go unchallenged. “The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we’re in the middle,” said Vicente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110.

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business–and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Furthermore, while inventory records indicated there were plenty of parts in the plant, workers on the production line found shortages. And the order books, while certainly down from the peak years of the housing boom, didn’t square with management’s claims of a total collapse. “Where did all those windows go?” one worker asked.

Workers were especially outraged that Bank of America, which recently received a bailout in taxpayer money, won’t provide credit to Republic. “They get $25 billion from the government, and won’t loan a few million to this company so workers can keep their jobs?” said Ricardo Caceres, who has worked at the plant for six years.

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THE MEMBERS of Local 1110 have a history of struggle. In 2004, they decertified the Central States Joint Board–a union notorious for corruption and sweetheart contracts with management–and brought in UE, a far more democratic organization.

In May of this year, Local 1110 mobilized for a contract by organizing a “practice” picket, and 70 workers used their lunch break to confront the boss with a petition listing their demands. The workers were able to turn back company’s effort to win major concessions and won solid pay increases. Now, management is trying to get revenge by pocketing money that belongs to the workers.

UE officials and workers acknowledge that it will be difficult to stop the plant from closing. But they’re determined to get the money owed to them–and they believe that by fighting, they can set an example for other workers facing layoffs and plant closures as the recession deepens.

Negotiations are set for Monday, December 8. Whatever happens, however, the workers have already sent a message to employers that if they violate workers rights and the law, they can expect a fight.

“This is a message to the workers of America,” said Vicente Rangel, the shop steward. “If we stand together, we will prevail until justice is done, and we get what we’re due.”

What you can do

If you live in the Chicago area, come to a rally on Saturday, December 6, at 12 Noon at Republic Windows, 1333 N. Hickory in Chicago, on Goose Island. If negotiations with Bank of America fail to resolve the issue, there will be a picket of BoA’s Chicago headquarters at 231 S. LaSalle on Tuesday, December 9 at 12 noon.

Members of Local 1110 need your support. Make checks payable to the UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, and mail to: 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to leahfried@gmail.com. For more information, call UE at 312-829-8300.

At the Jobs with Justice Web site, you can send a message of protest to Bank of America.

4 thoughts on “factory occupation in chicago

    Workers Vote to Get Pay; Occupation Ends!

    After 6 days occupying the plant, workers at Republic Window and Doors in Chicago voted to accept a settlement late on December 10th.

    The settlement totals $1.75million. It will provide the workers with:

    Eight weeks of pay they are owed under the federal WARN Act;
    Two months of continued health coverage, and;
    Pay for all accrued and unused vacation.
    JPMorgan Chase will provide $400,000 of the settlement, with the balance coming from Bank of America. Although the money will be provided as a loan to Republic Windows and Doors, it will go directly into a third-party fund whose sole purpose is to pay the workers what is owed them. In addition, the UE has started the “Window of Opportunity Fund” dedicated to re-opening the plant. Find out how to donate.

    As the Local 1110 leaders characterized the settlement, “We fought to make them pay what they owe us, and we won.” Read more about the settlement here.

    We want to extend a big THANK YOU to all of you who participated in this campaign. The tremendous support and solidarity from the thousands of people like you around the country – and the world – who took the time to send messages to Bank of America and who rallied at banks across the country was crucial in winning this victory.

    This is truly an historic victory for workers in the United States.

    But this struggle is just the beginning! As the economic crisis deepens we need to launch a working class fight back. Rallies for a “People’s Bailout” will continue today and throughout the rest of the week. Click here to find an action near you – updates daily. You can also take action online:

    Tell Congress: We Demand a People’s Bailout
    Save Autoworker Jobs
    VOTE NOW for Grinch of the Year
    Thanks again for all that you do! You can see photos, video, and press clips from the Week of Action here.


    On Friday December 5th, the workers of Republic Windows and Doors, members of UE Local 1110, occupied their factory, which was due to close at 10:00 AM. The workers were fighting for pay for their lost vacation days and for the 75 days notice that they are guaranteed under Illinois law. This is the first time in many years workers have taken the bold, militant strategy of occupying their place of work to demand justice.

    Only weeks after taking $25 Billion in bailout money, Bank of America turned its back on hundreds of workers making energy efficient doors and windows in Chicago by refusing to continue credit to Republic Windows and Doors. To make matters even worse than putting 300 people out of work, Bank of America has instructed Republic to refuse to pay workers compensation they are legally entitled to, either earned vacation pay or the severance pay legally required under the WARN Act, in lieu of proper notice of plant closing.

    Like many other ‘titans of Wall street,’ Bank of America, Key Bank and others are taking their bailout — supposedly meant to allow credit to get our economy moving again — and using it to take over other banks, pay bonuses to executives and dividends to shareholders… just about everything except helping businesses continue to employ workers.


    To donate to the workers’ Window of Opportunity Fund”:

    Local 1110, UE Hall
    37 S. Ashland Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60607


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