We were not exactly sure what we were going to do when we got there.
Republic Windows and Doors had suddenly announced it was shuttering its plant. The law requires 60 days notice or 60 days pay. The workers had received neither.
So, instead of leaving, they decided to stay.
It just seemed like we needed to let the folks who were sitting-in at Republic Windows and Doors know that they had support.
The factory is on Goose Island, an industrial area surrounded by gentrified neighborhoods on Chicago’s North Side. 240 people, mainly Latino, work there. It is a union shop, affiliated with the United Electrical Workers.
They had started the sit-in this morning and made it clear that they weren’t going to leave until they were paid the 60 days that was owed them.
But there’s a lot going on here. There is the money that was promised in loans to Republic by Bank of America, which received $25 billion from the federal bailout. The loan has now been withdrawn. There is the rumor that Republic, which sold the land they sit on to Wrigley Gum, is planning to move south to get out of their union contracts.
We had driven the 15 minutes to Goose Island and turned up Hickory Street. News trucks were parked all around.
Armando Robles came up to our car.
“I’m Fred Klonsky. I’m president of a teachers’ union local and we wanted to come by and show our support.”
Senor Robles stuck out his hand. We shook. “I’m the local president here.”
“What do you need?”
“Coffee,” Robles said. “We’ve been inside since this morning and the people had some lunch, but nothing since then.”
“How many people?” I asked.
Hmmm. 150 coffees.
We drove around the corner to a Dunkin Donuts. I got a Box O’ Joe, which equals about 10 cups and jumped back into the car. I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. More symbolic than anything else.
We squeezed past the dozen or so news guys at the front door and just walked into the plant. We found the employee’s lunch room and set the Box O’ Joe on a table. The hundred or so workers that were assembled in the room broke out into applause.
“No, no.” we shook our heads. “Really. You guys are great.”
They applauded some more.
Talking to the UE staff, if was pretty obvious that THEY were taken by surprise by the member’s decision to sit-in. So things are a little disorganized tonight.
But a prayer vigil is planned for tomorrow at noon with area religious leaders. The company has promised not to evict the workers. The union has organized shifts of people to sit in. Local community organizations and unions have been contacted. Congressman Luis Gutierrez arrived while we were there and met with the workers. He promised a full investigation of the actions of Bank of America and Republic. And a meeting is scheduled for Monday between the union, the owners and the bank.
Meanwhile, nothing illustrates the disconnect between the actions of the political leadership in Washington and what is happening in neighborhoods, schools and factories better than what is going on tonight at Republic Windows and Doors. Billions for Wall Street.
The employees of Republic have taken over the plant and have refused to give it back until promises made are promises kept. It feels like the beginning of something important.