Tim Newman, Campaigns Assistant, International Labor Rights Forum
In a truly historic victory, workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago (UE Local 1110) approved an agreement with the company and Bank of America that ended a 5 day occupation of the factory. According to UE:
The settlement totals $1.75 million. 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.
The money from Chase and BOA will go in to a third party fund to be used specifically for paying the workers what is owed to them. UE also announced last night that they would be establishing a foundation called the "Window of Opportunity Fund" (the name was chosen by the workers) dedicated to re-opening the plant which produced energy-efficient windows and doors.
It's hard to believe that it was less than a week ago that the workers decided to occupy their factory because the company abruptly announced it was shutting down the factory and its creditor, Bank of America, was not allowing the company to pay the workers their severance pay. This important struggle and victory has reminded me of a few important things.
Workers Need a Voice on the Job
When the Republic Windows workers found out that the company was going to close down in three days, they made the collective decision to occupy the factory in shifts until their demands were met. The workers' decision was supported by the national leadership of UE. Last week, the company and Bank of America, were NOT prepared to meet their legal obligations to these workers. The company's plan was to leave their former employees and their families out in the cold right before the holidays, in the midst of growing unemployment levels, with none of their earned vacation pay or other benefits. Since the workers were organized in a strong union, they were able to rapidly organize and respond collectively to their employer's plan. It is also important to know that UE has a rich history of rank-and-file unionism. If this had not been the case, it is likely that they never would have received their hard-earned pay and many of the workers would have been quickly overwhelmed by their families' blls and expenses.
This struggle shows how important it is for workers to have a voice at work because this situation could happen to so many of us in today's economy. It is exciting that the agreement was reached on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects workers' right to join and form unions. All too often, employers wage massive campaigns to stop unions from forming. The victory yesterday was a reminder that we need to expand the union movement in the U.S. (and globally) and support the Employee Free Choice Act.
In addition to the courageous organizing of the workers themselves, supporters from around the world took action in solidarity. People across the country organized local rallies to show support and to pressure Bank of America to agree to the workers' demands. Faith groups, civil rights and community organizations and other unions visited the workers in Chicago and held a huge march downtown yesterday. Elected officials like Representative Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and event President-elect Barack Obama publicly supported the workers. Fifteen city alderman had vowed to introduce an ordinance calling on the City of Chicago to stop doing business with Bank of America and the governor of Illinois followed suit. Not the mention all the people who sent e-mails to Bank of America through Jobs With Justice, donated to the workers solidarity fund and took so many other actions to show their support. All of these actions helped to encourage the workers and increase pressure on Republic Windows and Bank of America.
What's the deal with the bailout?
Part of the story this time around was that Bank of America had received taxpayer money through the bailout which was supposed to help re-start lending and avoid the exact situation that took place at Republic Windows and Doors. According to the text of the of Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the bailout was supposed to promote job growth, protect homeownership, provide public accountability and many other pleasant-sounding things. The case of Republic Windows and Doors had a lot of people asking why we were handing over money to Bank of America for these purposes when they were initially making it harder for workers to get their fair compensation. It seems like banks like Bank of America have been using their taxpayer money to buy up other banks and for activities other than helping working families. In the past two weeks, the GAO released a report calling for greater transparency and accountability in Treasury's administration of the bailout cash and the Congressional Oversight Panel for Economic Stabilization released a report raising similar questions. Rep. Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said that it looks like Treasury has done very little to ensure that bailout money is used for lending purposes and he's calling for a public hearing. We desperately need more accountability before anyone considers handing over the rest of the bailout money to banks.
We need a People's Bailout!
More broadly, we need to move beyond bailing out fat cat CEOs and instead pass a People's Bailout. Jobs with Justice and other organizations are sponsoring a week of action this week to call for a People's Bailout which would include these things:
Immediately we call for:
- Pass a large economic stimulus/recovery package, on the scale of the emergency we face;
- Pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA);
- Stop evictions due to foreclosures;
- Emergency action so people losing jobs don’t lose health care.
Lay the groundwork for a long-term recovery program including:
- Green jobs and clean energy;
- Restore worker justice, including EFCA and other reforms;
- Health care for all;
- Retirement security;
- Re-regulate the finance system and make the speculators pay to clean-up their mess
- Fair Trade and Migration policies
- Fair policies on Trade and Migration, including renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements, to protect worker rights and the environment, ending ICE raids and supporting the rights of all workers, here and abroad
There are still more local actions taking place across the country, so you can check out the list here and you can send an e-mail in support of these demands to Obama and your Congresspeople by clicking here.
The massive energy and excitement that the Republic Windows and Doors occupation unleashed across the country shows that we want a change in direction in our economic policy -- and also that we have to ORGANIZE if we're going to get it! So let's use this energy and keep working so that we can open up the window of opportunity for working people all over the country!