Thursday, December 4, 2008

Billions for Bank America – zero for workers

By John Bachtell

CHICAGO — Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in the Goose Island neighborhood began occupying the plant Friday morning Dec. 5 to regain pay for lost vacation days after the plant was abruptly closed.

They plan to continue the occupation until the results of the next round of negotiations with management on Dec. 8 are known.

Bank of America (BA) is chief investor and controls the day-to-day finances of Republic Windows and Doors, a manufacturer for the home construction market. BA refused to extend a line of credit and as a result the company was forced to close its doors December 5. Three hundred workers were thrown onto the street. This action came on the heels of a $25 billion emergency bailout of BA from the federal government.

On December 3th 100 Republic Windows workers, their families and supporters picketed BA Chicago headquarters on LaSalle Street. The workers, represented by United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) stretched a city block as they marched beneath the ornate bank columns and carried signs saying, “Billions for BA, $0 for workers” and “You got your bailout, we got sold out.”

According to Armando Robles, a maintenance employee and local union president, “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

The mostly Latino and African American workers are demanding at a minimum, the bank allow the company to pay worker vacation pay and other monies owned under WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act). BA instructed the company not to issue payments. In addition, the union is demanding the company comply with the requirement to give 60 days notice before closure of a workplace or 60 days pay in lieu of notice.

But the union believes the jobs can be saved. The company has said the closure is due to the deepening economic crisis and especially in the housing and construction industry. Orders have plummeted and according to the company, declining revenues would have ended in bankruptcy.

But according to a UE spokesperson, while the company’s new construction sales have suffered due to the slowdown, sales of replacement windows have remained steady. CEO Rich Gillman had just told the union that they company had customers willing to buy windows and they could stay in business if BA continued financing.

Observers say BA’s callousness is a clear example of the need for greater regulation of the bailouts being extended to Wall Street banks to prevent such outrageous acts of abuse.

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