Chicago workers' sit-in becomes rallying point for supporters

Monday, December 8, 2008
SPENCER GREEN ~ Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. is applauded Sunday after visiting with workers on the third day of a sit-in at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. The sit-in by laid-off workers at the shuttered window factory in Chicago is becoming a cause célèbre for those who want action to avert economic pain. Workers say they'll stay put until they're given severance and vacation pay.

CHICAGO -- Chicago workers in the third day of a sit-in on the floor of their former workplace peered through the windows of a door Sunday to see a mix of supporters, politicians and journalists who packed a foyer outside.

"We never expected this," said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. "We expected to go to jail."

The 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off nationwide as the economy continues to sour. They occupied the plant of their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, after the company fired them last week.

At a news conference Sunday, president-elect Barack Obama said Republic should follow through on its commitments to its workers.

"The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy," Obama said.

Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union that represents the workers, said the company told the union that Bank of America has canceled its financing.

Bank of America received $25 billion as part of a government bailout. Some workers carried signs Sunday that said: "You got bailed out. We got sold out."

The bank had said in a statement Saturday that it wasn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees. Republic has not commented on the sit-in.

Meanwhile, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a news release late Sunday that she had representatives at the factory investigating the closure.

"I am extremely concerned with the actions of this company, which are having a significant impact on employees and their families," Madigan said.

One of the factory's workers, Silvia Mazon, said in Spanish that she needs the money owed to her for an $1,800 monthly house payment. The 40-year-old from Cicero said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.

"We're making history," she said.

Patrick Tyrrell, 22, of Chicago, visited the workers Saturday and returned the next day with home-cooked beans, rice, chicken and soup. Tyrrell said he felt he wanted to help, in part, because his grandfather was an electrical union member.

"This is an impressive historical event," he said.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, called it the start of a movement. "This story has resonated around the world," she said.

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