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Vol. 72/No. 51      December 29, 2008

Workers in Chicago celebrate sit-in victory
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CHICAGO—“Workers are tired of being lied to and mistreated. They tried to throw us out of work with no money, no health insurance, and no job. And we said no,” said Armando Robles, president of United Electrical Workers Local 1110, speaking to a victory party here on December 15.

The unionists were celebrating the success of the six-day sit-in by more than 200 workers laid off at the Republic Windows and Doors plant the previous week. They were demanding 60 days’ pay and medical benefits following the closing of the plant on December 5. They won their demands December 10 in a $1.75 million settlement that includes eight weeks’ pay, vacation pay, and a two-month extension of health insurance.

The gathering of several hundred workers and supporters was held at the Teamsters Local 705 auditorium. They were addressed by officials of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Operating Engineers; United Auto Workers; Teamsters union; UNITE HERE; and Service Employees International Union. Also speaking were representatives of the Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.

“Our victory is no longer just for workers at Republic Windows, but for all workers around the world,” Robles said.

Ricardo Cáceres, a worker with 15 years in the plant, said his uncle, an electrician in Honduras, called after seeing him in the factory on CNN. “My uncle is union, and he said our fight has opened the door for workers everywhere, giving them confidence.”

The day before, another celebration was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in the heavily Mexican neighborhood of La Villita (Little Village). Several Republic workers took turns speaking to the assembled crowd there.

Raúl Flores said, “We won because we were Latino immigrants, whites, and Blacks, and we were united. When we started our fight we didn’t know how much support we would get from people we didn’t even know.”

Both events drew participation by other workers who face similar situations such as plant shutdowns and layoffs. Víctor Ojeda said he was laid off by Olmarc Packaging Company when it closed in August. He noted that workers there, who received no compensation when the company declared bankruptcy, have decided to organize a meeting to see what they can do to fight for what they are owed.

Five laid-off workers from the Heinemann’s bakery attended the event at the Teamsters hall. They have been entangled in legal litigations since 2005 to win benefits under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, under which companies have to give workers 60 days’ warning of plant closures. “We came to support and learn from the fight of the Republic Window workers,” said Martín Quiroz.

Melvin Maclin, one of the United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 1110 members who participated in the sit-in, said in an interview, “We really wanted to keep this out of the courts. It would have been years until we saw anything. But the truth is it was already in the court of public opinion, and that’s why we won.”

Workers at Republic Windows had been involved in a series of fights prior to the sit-in. Vicente Rangel, a shop steward, described how they went on strike several years ago. “We lost that strike because the union told us to go back to work,” he said. “After that we decided to decertify that union and get a better union.”

Rangel said workers had also marched in the May Day mobilizations for legalization of immigrants in 2006, 2007, and 2008. “We told the company to give us the day off, because we weren’t going to come to work anyway,” he said. That too, he added, was part of making the union stronger.

UE international representative Mark Meinster said the plan for the sit-in came from workers in the plant. “Republic workers aren’t that different from workers anywhere. The difference is they stood up. They organized this fight.”

Ron Bender, an African American worker with 14 years at Republic Windows, said, “This was an important victory because for so long, working people would just lie down and take things without a fight. We took a step forward for all working men and women in this country.”

Alyson Kennedy contributed to this article.
Related articles:
More unemployed workers excluded from jobless benefits
After 15-year struggle at N. Carolina plant: Meat packers win union at Smithfield
Long Island cops cover up anti-immigrant attacks
300 protest thug killing of Ecuadoran in N.Y.  
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