Chicago protest becomes symbol of the nation’s woes

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Workers who occupied Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago after getting three days’ notice that the plant was closing became a symbol of the nation’s economic trials, drawing support from then-President-elect Barack Obama.

Obama told The New York Times, “I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

The workers sought severance and other benefits owed to them under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers to provide 60 days’ notice of plant closings, barring exceptional circumstances. Republic told the workers it could not meet its obligations because Bank of America had canceled its funding.

A six-day sit-in at the plant convinced Bank of America to guarantee funds for the workers’ benefits. The workers received eight weeks’ salary, accrued vacation pay and two months’ paid health care, amounting to roughly $7,000 apiece.

Bob Bruno, director of the labor studies program at the University of Illinois, told the Times the workers’ success would likely encourage “more of these sort of riskier, militant adventures, and they’re more likely to succeed.”

Painting Bank of America as the Scrooge in the dispute provided a convenient distraction from the fact that Republic had incorporated a new company, Echo Windows LLC, on Nov. 18. Echo bought a window and door manufacturing plant in Red Oak, Iowa, where it now employs 102 workers, all nonunion, the Times reported.

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