Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Chicago Factory Sit-In

By now you have probably heard about the 200 or so laid-off workers occupying a door and window factory in Chicago, refusing to leave until they receive the severance and vacation pay they have earned.  

Here's a quick overview of what's gone down so far, followed by some of my brief observations.  

Timeline of the Occupation

Tuesday, Dec 2nd:  
  • Republic Windows and Doors tells its workers they will be laid off by the end of the week, giving just 3 days notice, violating the Illinois WARN Act. 
  • Republic says it will shut the plant and will not pay its workers the severance and accrued vacation pay because Bank of America has canceled its financing of the company.
Friday, Dec 5th:  
  • The factory closes, but the workers--members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)--won't leave.
  • “We aren't animals,” says Apolinar Cabrera, a 17-year employee of Republic. “We're human beings and we deserve to be treated like human beings.” 
  • The workers occupy the factory in 8-hour shifts, shoveling snow and cleaning the building.
Saturday, Dec 6th: 
  • Bank of America, which received $25 billion as part of a government bailout, issues a statement saying the bank is not responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees.
Sunday, Dec 7th
  • Bringing in the Big Guns.  President-elect Obama weighs in on the side of the workers, saying,
“The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy.” 
  • High-profile supporters visit the workers, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill)
Monday, Dec 8th: 
  • Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announces that the state “will suspend doing any business with Bank of America” until the company restores credit to the factory. 
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) rallies with workers.
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) helps arrange a meeting between the workers' union, the company, and the bank. Talks reach no resolution.
Tuesday, Dec 9th
  • In a victory for the workers, Bank of America reverses its position and agrees to extend limited loans to the factory so that the company can pay the workers the money it owes them. 
Wednesday, Dec 10th: 
  • The workers' occupation of the factory continues and so do talks between the union, the company, and the bank. More updates to follow.
Observations on the Occupation

1. This is a historic moment and it may take a while to realize just how historic it really is. Some accounts say a workplace sit-in like this one hasn't happened since the 1930s. Others say say it has been seldom seen since the 1930s. Others say it harkens back to the 1930s or that it is reminiscent of the 1930s. Any way you slice it, people are comparing this to the 1930s, when a failed economy gave rise to a grassroots labor activism that rose up and built most of what we love about our country today.

2. Democrats have been impressively supportive of the workers. From the Chicago area's US representatives, to the senior senator from Illinois, all the way to the president-elect. I'm proud to be a Democrat today.

3. Republicans' silence on the issue is deafening. Has anyone seen or heard any statement from a national-level Republicans about the sit-in? I've done a little searching and can find nothing. Zilch! Hmm, why might that be? 

4. Chamber of Commerce types and the Anti-Union Network must be pooping their pants right now. You might too, if you had spent the last couple of decades growing sinfully wealthy while squeezing working people to near breaking point, or if you had gotten used to having friends in the White House and Congress who help you bust unions and ignore laws. A new sheriff is coming to town, and suddenly labor militancy is cool again.

5. What great timing this all is for the push to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The lords of wealth have already poured millions into smearing this bill. Well, two hundred unionists just got more attention than all the ads Big Money could buy. And that, friends, is how we say BOOYA!


Phyllis said...

You mean companies should be required to deliver on their contractual and legal obligations to workers? AMAZING!

Becky said...

Amen! I hadn't realized that about the Repubs' silence on this, but it really shows how full of carp they are. Joe the Plumber this and that. . .then actual workers with actual jobs don't get what is rightfully theirs, and they are nowhere to be seen.

Camp Papa said...

It is a moral responsibility of management to take the necessary actions to protect employees BEFORE things get so bad that they have to (or choose to?) shut down with only three days notice.

Back in my union days, the slogan was, "You have only the rights that are in law and contract." Unfortunately, we have learned the hard way that we can't depend on management doing the right thing. Power is balance with power. There's nothing more American than that.

Amy said...

Wow--I wasn't aware of any of that! Beck has a good point about the Joe the Plumber thing...I guess some are more comfortable with the theory of working people than the reality.

Booya, indeed.

Amy said...

p.s. would like to hear your take on the whole IL governor thing, as well. guess it goes to show that corruption is not partisan, eh?

Mark said...

The same thing happens in my field (film). Producers love to bitch about unions but seldom put their money where their mouth is. Production Assistants are not unionized and with no union to stand up for them, their standard daily rate is the same as it was 1990. Health Insurance? No.

The Screen Actor Guild is about to go on strike. The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers refuse to make a deal which properly compensates screen actors for work in new media (similar to the writers' strike last year).

It would look horrible publicly for SAG to strike in these pressing economic times, because work stops for everyone in movies if they do (television should be fine because most actors' deal in TV are through AFTRA - American Film, Television and Radio Actors, I think).

I suppose my point is only to affirm Wayne's main thesis that management won't take responsibility until they have to. And the sit-in only confirms the restored hope that has beset us.

Anonymous said...

At least workers today aren't subject to a ruthless beating every time they have a hankering for a measly can of Coke.

Better Than Machines said...

That's interesting. I thought I had heard rumblings of a strike from the Screen Actors. Keep us updated.

And I agree that, in general, management will not take responsibility for the welfare of its workers until they have to. And "until they have to" sometimes means "until workers raise enough hell that it's actually more profitable for management just to give into their demands."