Friday, December 19, 2008

Labor Beat Videos of Republic Windows Occupation


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Republic windows workers win entitlements – Establish foundation to fund reopening the plant

Chris Latham

Late Wednesday evening, workers at Republic Windows unanimously voted to accept an agreement that had been negotiated between the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and representatives of Republic Windows, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. JPMorgan Chase had entered negotiations on Wednesday morning, offering to make $400, 000 available to help fund the payment of Republic Windows’ obligations to the occupying workers. Chase Capital Corp, a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, had leant $12 million in early 2007 to help keek Republic Windows continue to operate.

The final settlement, valued at $1.75 million will provide 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.

BoA will fund $1.35 million with JPMorgan Chase funding the remaining $400, 000. According to UE, while the money will be loaned to Republic Windows, it will go directly into a third party fund whose sole purpose is paying workers what is owed to them.

Following the march, UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley addressed the workers, describing the outcome of the occupation as “a win for all working men and women who face uncertainty, unfairness and job loss in a troubled economy.”

Kingsley also announced the formation of a new “Window of Opportunity Foundation”, which will be dedicated to reopening the plant. The foundation is to be initiated with seed money provided from UE national union funds and from donations which had been made to the UE Local 1110 solidarity fund. The fund will continue to be open to receive donations from supports of the Republic Windows Workers.


Rio Tinto announces it will sack 14 000 workers globally

Lisbeth Latham

Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining companies announced on December 10 that it would shed 14, 000 jobs from its global workforce as part of an effort to reduce its $38.9 billion debt by $10 Billion by the end of 2009. This move reflects the impact of the global economic downturn on the mining industry, which faces not only declining demand but also falling commodity prices. As a consequence miners who in the last year have looked to expand their production capacity are now lowering output.

Under the plan 5,500 of Rio Tinto's of 97, 000 core workers will be sacked along 8, 500 of the comapny's 15, 000 contractors. Rio’s projected future savings also includes a rapid acceleration in the outsourcing and off-shoring of the company’s IT and procurement during 2009 it likely that there will be more shifts in the structure of its workforce. Rio Tinto expects to make an annual saving from the current round of job cuts of $1.2 billion annually. Their total payout to redundant workers is estimated at $400 million.

In addition to the job cuts Rio Tinto is other cost cutting mechanisms. These include:

  • Reductions in operating costs by $1.3 billion per annum in addition to the savings made from shedding job;
  • A reduction its capital expenditure in 2009 from $9 billion to $4 billion resulting in the company cancelling or delaying projects;
  • Holding the dividend payment at the 2007 level of 136 US cents and stopping the 20% increase in 2008 or 2009;
  • Selling off some of the companies assets

A significant factor in the difficulties facing has been the rapid decline in the Chinese economy. Australian Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens on December 9 said “China’s economy has slowed much more quickly than anyone had forecast. Our own estimates suggest that Chinese industrial production probably declined over the four months to October”. While Stevens, acknowledged that some of the weakness could be attributable to the Olympics, “more than that seems to have been occurring. I am not sure that many economic forecasters have fully appreciated this yet. There is every chance that the rate of growth of China’s GDP is currently noticeably below the 8 per cent pace that is embodied in various forecasts for 2009”.

During November, China’s imports and exports had fallen from the previous months figures 17.9 and 2.2 percent respectively, compared with analysts estimates of growth of 12 and 15 percent. In October, China’s imports had grown 15.6% while exports had grown 19.2% over the previous 12 months.

On December 10, The Times reported that Rio Tinto’s senior management is predicting that the Chinese government will be able to stimulate its economy sufficiently next year to allow the demand for raw materials to rebound in the second half of last year. Stevens, also argued that as a consequence of the Chinese government, who had been previously attempting to cool the Chinese economy, have begun to implement expansionary policies, “so there is a good chance that China’s economy will be looking stronger in a year’s time than it does today”. Whether any improvement in the Chinese will sufficiently boost the commodities market to boost Rio Tinto’s financial situation remains to be seen.

Not all of Rio Tinto’s problems are a consequence of the global economic downturn. While all mining companies will be looking to reduce production which may include not just reducing the output at individual mines, but the closure and mothballing of entire mines – particularly those with poor grade quality, which were only viable while commodity prices were at their highest. However a substantial component of Rio Tinto’s debts are the consequence of its attempts to re-position itself within the commodities market through its acquisition in late 2007 of Canadian Aluminum producer ALCAN for $38 billion while the market was at its highest. It is the ensuring high debt levels, some of which are due for repayment by late 2009, that have forced the current round of job shedding.

It is unclear how these job losses will be spread across the company’s global work force, ABC News reported on December 11, that the specifics of the cuts are expected in the New Year. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which covers workers at Rio Tinto's hugely profitable Coal and Iron Ore mines, has indicated that it will fight job losses in Australia. CFMEU Mining Division President Tony Maher, telling the Sydney Morning Herald, "There's no justification of cutting back the workforce, it shows the folly of taking on tens of billions of debt”.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Occupying Workers Win Support

Lisbeth Latham

The ongoing occupation of Republic Windows and Doors, which began Friday morning, has caught the attention of people around the globe. The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America’s (UE) website reported that by Monday Google News had nearly 1500 story mentions and a facebook solidarity group had grown from 800 members at noon on Sunday to 2, 400 by midnight. Both these figures have expanded significantly, there are now 3, 984 stories on Google News, and the Facebook group is up to 7,717. The occupation has become a rallying point for labor activists with officials and rank-and-file members from a range of unions visiting the workers.

The occupation has also attracted support of an increasing number of politicians. On Sunday, “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right”, Obama said “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

Then on Monday the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich ordered state agenicies to stop doing business with Bank of America. The same day 15 alderman of the City of Chicago announced that they would be pushing for the city to do the same. The workers have also been visited by Democract member of Congress Luis Gutierrez Illinois, who has sort to broker meetings between the workers, Republic Windows and BoA.

The support and interests of labour and social movement activists is easily understood, as is the support demonstrated politicians and the generally very positive coverage in the media. As UE points out on its solidarity page “working people, caught in the turmoil of the current economic crisis have found new hope in the actions of these UE members. And, that's not gone unnoticed”.
The media coverage has treated the occupation as an oddity. However once the coverage began it tapped a significant amount of anger in working class communities, communities that had opposed the bail out when it was first proposed, and now the US’s second largest bank, received $25 billion in as part of that bail out was now forcing the closure of a company and putting people out of work (although it may not be quite that simple, as Lee Suster reported in Socialist Worker, Republic Windows’ management appears to have intended to reopen the factory with non-union labour in Iowa).

While some of the support from Democratic Party Politicians may be genuine, its clear that they also want this dispute to go away. The longer the dispute continues the more support and publicity it will generate. Increasing the possibility that more of the thousands of US workers, who themselves are facing the redundancy, might consider occupying their own workplace to be a good idea. The increasing pressure on both BoA and Republic is to get them to settle and give the workers their entitlements. Such a strategy has its own dangers of course. A victory for the workers at Republic Windows could set the example that by fighting they can win.


No Final Agreement Reached; Bargaining Continues Wednesday

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)
No final agreement was reached in bargaining on Tuesday involving UE Local 1110 members who have occupied their workplace, the Republic Windows plant, since Friday. Another negotiating session has been set for Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. (CST).

A statement issued late Tuesday night by the UE negotiating committee said, "Negotiations will resume tomorrow as the parties continue to work towards an agreement. Progress was made, and the bank and the Union are bargaining in good faith."

The statement adds, "There are still important details to be worked out before the parties can reach an agreement."

The statement also noted that, in the case of a tentative agreement, UE Local 1110 members will meet, discuss and vote before details can be released.

The announcement was made at about 11:00 p.m. following the session which had begin ten hours earlier.

Representing the union during the meeting were UE Local 1110 President Armando Robles, Vice President Melvin Maclin, Steward Vicente Rangel, UE Western Region President Carl Rosen and UE International Representative Mark Meinster.

Wednesday's Chicago rally will be held as scheduled.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A rallying point for labor

Lee Sustar reports from Chicago on how the struggle at Republic Windows & Doors took shape.
December 8, 2008
Socialist Worker
A FACTORY occupation in Chicago that began as a show of defiance by 250 workers has been transformed into a focus of national and international labor solidarity.

Grassroots activists, rank-and-file union members, labor leaders, members of Congress and Rev. Jesse Jackson have all come to Republic Windows & Doors factory just north and west of the city's downtown to show their support for the overwhelmingly Latino workforce.

In a matter of a few days, news of this fight has spread far and wide--even gaining the attention of President-elect Barack Obama, who declared that the workers' struggle was just.

The occupation of the Republic factory began December 5 when workers on the afternoon shift voted to stay in the plant rather than accept a shutdown on just three days' notice--and without the vacation pay or severance money mandated under federal and state law.

The workers, members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, were prepared to be arrested to make a statement about the Republic owners' violation of the law--and about the refusal of the company's main creditor, Bank of America (BoA), either to extend credit to the company to keep it operating or to make good on management's obligations to workers.

As a result, workers said, the decision to occupy was an easy one--whatever the consequences. Suddenly, an American factory occupation--something usually relegated to dusty labor history books about the 1930s and nostalgic speeches at union conventions--was a reality.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
IF PUBLIC'S owners considered calling the cops to evict the workers, they perhaps thought the better of it given their own obvious violation of the law.

Within a few hours, said UE International Representative Mark Meinster, the company reached an "understanding" with the union: Workers would keep the plant clean and safe, and a handful of company security guards would stay away from the cafeteria where the workers have set themselves up.

Workers have another very practical reason for guarding the plant--to make sure that management would no longer be able to move out critical equipment. In recent weeks, important and expensive gear had disappeared--including brand new presses that showed up on the loading dock one day, but were never installed.

"They said we were cross-docking," said Local 1110 Vice President Melvin Maclin, referring to the practice of taking delivery of items and shipping it out the same day. "In more than 20 years, they've never cross-docked." Maclin and other workers suspect that the owners are either selling off equipment or preparing to restart production in a separate, nonunion company--a practice perfected in the trucking industry in the late 1980s and adopted by other employers since.

Republic workers were determined it would not happen this time--not without a fight.

Hours into the occupation on Friday evening, local labor and immigrant rights activists began turning up at the plant's entrance with bags of takeout fried chicken, coffee and soda. Others who rushed over without stopping for food dug into their wallets instead, handing cash to union organizers to get more supplies. Meanwhile, more than a half-dozen TV news vans crowded the street outside as reporters prepared to do live broadcasts.

E-mail alerts, text messages and reports from the mainstream and independent media circulated around Chicago to promote a vigil to be held at Noon the next day. At the appointed hour, there were more than 300 union members and supporters on hand, as prayers gave way to an exuberant solidarity rally and fundraiser.

Rev. C.J. Hawking of the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice committee led prayers--and revved up the crowd with her fiery pro-worker message. Several Republic workers spoke, explaining to the crowd why they decided to draw the line.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who had tried to broker a meeting between Republic management, BoA and the union--the owners didn't show--was the featured speaker.

"Somebody said to me, 'Those windows don't belong to them. What do you mean they're staying with them?'" Gutierrez told the crowd. "It seems to me that it was [the workers'] labor that put together those windows. It was their creativity, it was their work, their commitment to quality that made this company successful...Those windows belong to the workers until they are paid for."

Veterans of other labor struggles spoke--such as Rich Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743, who took office earlier this year after a long fight for democracy in a union notorious for corruption. Other speakers included James Thindwa, executive director of Chicago Jobs with Justice, and Jesse Sharkey, a delegate in the Chicago Teachers Union and member of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), a union reform group. UE Western Region President Carl Rosen closed out the rally.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
BY THAT afternoon, the Republic occupation was international news. The mainstream media, usually clueless where labor issues are concerned, got the essentials across: BoA has $25 billion of taxpayer money but it wants to cut off credit to a viable company and toss more than 250 workers on the streets.

Sunday morning saw Jesse Jackson bring 200 turkeys to workers as UE staff set up a food distribution system. "These workers deserve their wages, deserve fair notice, deserve health security," Jackson said at a press conference. "This may be the beginning of [a] long struggle of worker resistance, finally." U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky also arrived to tour the plant and pledge her support.

Barack Obama felt compelled to address the Republic struggle at his own press conference. "The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned," Obama said. "I think they're absolutely right, and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy."

While the political figures have dominated the media's attention, the crowded foyer of the plant has become a rolling solidarity meeting involving union members, social movement activists and students.

On Sunday, a young Chicago bus driver and union activist was there to show support--and make activists aware of the Chicago Transit Authority's attempts to eliminate mechanics' jobs.
Rich De Vries, business agent for Teamsters Local 705, visited the plant, as did Gerald Colby, president of the National Writers Union, who came as part of a delegation from the U.S. Labor Against the War national leadership meeting, held just outside Chicago over the weekend. "This struggle shows that working people are not going to be pushed around--that they are going to stand up for their rights--and that they have rights at the point of production," Colby said.
James Thindwa of Jobs with Justice made a similar point. "This is the end of an era in which corporate greed is the rule," he said. "This is the start of something new."


Monday, December 8, 2008

Barak Obama Sides with UE Members in Chicago

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, 7 December

President-elect Barak Obama has placed himself on the side of UE members occupying their workplace in Chicago, according to a report published by the Chicago Sun-Times on its website, Sunday.

The Sun-Times quotes Obama as saying, “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right ... what's happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy." (View the full story at Sun-Times website).

Schakowsky: 'Require Banks to Use Taxpayers' Money to Benefit Workers'
Meanwhile, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky was at the plant Sunday afternoon to show her support for the UE Local 1110 members' demands that the company and its chief creditor, Bank of America, meet their obligations to company's 300 workers.

In a press release issued earlier in the day, Schakowsky indicated she supports the efforts of Congressman Luis Gutierrez to negotiate a suitable agreement.

Schakowsky added that she will work with him and other members of the delegation to get the Treasury Department to require that banks such as Bank of America that have received taxpayer financing use these funds to benefit America's workers.

Jackson: Food, Support and Encouragement
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was also at the plant this morning, delivering food to the workers. He addressed the UE members and their supportes offering his support and encouragement.

Members of UE Local 1110 who work at Republic Windows and Doors have been occupying the plant since Friday evening. All 260 members of the local were laid off Friday in a sudden plant closing, brought on by a decision made by Bank of America to cut off operating credit to the company. The bank reportedly even refused to authorize the release of money Republic needed to pay workers their earned vacation pay, and compensation they are owed under the federal WARN Act because they were not given the legally-required notice that the plant was about to close.

'Safeguarding Assets' — and Perhaps Their Future
"The bank has the money in this situation," said UE International Representative Mark Meinster, "and we are demanding that Bank of American release the money owed to workers who have earned it and are entitled to it"

"We're occupying the plant to guard its assets and keep everything safe," said Meinster. The workers have vowed to stay inside at least until they are paid — and to push for possibility of keeping the plant open.

Bank of America, the country's second largest bank, has received $25 billion in taxpayer money as part of the $700 billion government bailout of the financial industry. The public was told that this bailout was necessary in order to keep credit flowing and prevent the loss of jobs. Yet the bank, by cutting its line of credit to Republic, forced the closing of a plant where workers were, at least up until Friday, producing energy-efficient doors and windows.

Jobs with Justice Campaign
Jobs with Justice, the national worker rights coalition, is asking people to sign an online letter to Bank of America, demanding that they provide the needed credit to keep Republic Windows and Doors open – or at a minimum, that they pay workers the money they are owed. Please go to this link to support this important struggle.

UE Local 1110 members, along with community supporters, picketed and rallied in front of Bank of America’s main Chicago branch on Wednesday, December 3. They chanted, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!” Local 1110 President Armando Robles told the news media, “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions, and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”


Sunday, December 7, 2008

More video on the United Electrical Workers' occupation of Republic Windows factory

This video is from Associated Press has been getting significant airplay including in the December 7 evening news bulleting of the Australian Special Broadcasting Service.


Chicago Workers Occupy Factory

Lisbeth Latham

Workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago began an occupation of the factory after the Bank of America refused new loans that would have allowed the manufacturer of energy efficient doors and windows to keep operating. The workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, began their occupation at 10 am on Friday December 5, when the factory was scheduled to close with the last shift. According to UE all 260 workers at the factory are participating in the weekend long occupation, demanding that the company pay their full obligation to the workers.

The workers had been told three days prior that the factory would be closing due to Bank of America’s was cutting off operating credit to the company. The decision followed a decline in Republic’s sales from $4 million per month to $2.9 million during November. The Local responded to this decision with a picket outside Bank of America’s main Chicago branch December 3 chanting, “You got bailed out, we got sold out!”

Local 1110’s President Armando Robles told the media “Just weeks before Christmas we are told our factory will close in three days. Taxpayers gave Bank of America billions, and they turn around and close our company. We will fight for a bailout for workers.”

Vincente Rangel, a shop steward and former vice president of Local 1110, told Socialist Worker’s Lee Sustar “The company and Bank of America are throwing the ball to one another, and we're in the middle".

Many workers had suspected the company was planning to go out of business--and perhaps restart operations elsewhere. Several said managers had removed both production and office equipment in recent days.

Workers’ anger was increased when they learned that Bank of America had instructed Republic’s managers to not pay workers’ their accrued vacation pay or the severance pay that they were entitled to the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, as the company had failed to give the workers the legally required 60 days notice of closure. In a statement issued on December 6, the Bank of America has stated that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s obligations to its workers. “Republic the Bank is controlling all expenditure”, UE organiser Leah Fried told the Chicago Tribune but “was not allowing it”.

Fried continued “This is a company that's been around for 48 years. They've been through quite a few ups and downs in the housing market and they probably could have gotten through this, but Bank of America decided to cut off the financing despite the bailout they received (from the government) and now these people are out on the street."

Bail Out for Capital While Workers Pay the Price
Bank of America, the second largest bank in the US, received $25 billion as part of the US government’s $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act which bailed out of the finance sector. The public justification of bailout was that it was necessary in order to keep credit flowing and prevent the loss of jobs. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had argued that the package was central to securing the “viability of businesses both small and large, and the very health’ of the US economy. Yet as UE notes in a December 4 statement “the very-well-paid executives at Bank of America have actually cut off credit and forced the closing of Republic where workers were, at least up until Friday, producing energy-efficient doors and windows”.

The workers at Republic are not alone in feeling the brunt of the economic slowdown. According to the US Department of Labor, 533, 000 workers lost their jobs during November. More job losses are likely as a consequence of the crisis in US auto industry. Within this context the occupation has generated considerable support, with union and other social movement activists in Chicago visiting the occupying workers.

The Chicago Tribune on December 6 carried the views of a range of Union Officials.

Richard Berg, President of Teamsters Local 743, said "across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame“. Berg continued “if this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country".

Larry Spivack, Regional Director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31 was reported as saying, "the history of workers is built on issues like this here today”.

Republic workers, many of them now facing the loss of their homes, are determined to win the fight.

Blanca Funes, a 13 year veteran at Republic, told the Chicago Tribune “we're going to stay here until we win justice”.

To support the members of Local 1110 in their courageous fight, send checks payable to the UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, to: UE, 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to For more information, call the UE Chicago office at 312-829-8300.

For more info visit UE’s website and Jobs with Justice.


About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP  

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.