Ill. gov. jumps in to sit-in at shuttered plant

By: AP
By: AP

CHICAGO (AP) -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered all state agencies Monday to stop doing business with Bank of America to try to pressure the bank into helping laid-off workers staging a sit-in at their shuttered factory.

The move is leverage to try to convince the North Carolina-based bank to use some of its federal bailout money to resolve the protest by about 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors.

The company closed last week with just a few days' notice and the workers have promised to remain inside the factory in shifts until they get assurances they will receive their severance and vacation pay. The workers have received support from President-elect Barack Obama and come to symbolize the plight of thousands of people laid off as the economy sours.

"We're going strong," Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union, said earlier Monday. "We're not going anywhere until there's resolution."

Fried said the company told the union that Bank of America canceled its financing. Bank of America said Saturday it wasn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees.

The bank did not return a phone message.

Republic has not commented on the sit-in but Rep. Luis Gutierrez said company representatives will join a meeting later Monday between union and bank officials.

The governor, meanwhile, said the state plans to pursue a court injunction Tuesday to make sure federal law is followed in giving workers severance and other benefits. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her office is investigating the company.

Since Friday, the laid-off workers have been occupying the plant around-the-clock in eight-hour shifts, Fried said. About 60 were inside early Monday.

Company officials have not responded to calls and e-mails. Gutierrez said company officials had signed a waiver permitting the opening of its financial records at the meeting.

Republic Windows and Doors told the workers on Dec. 2 that they would be out of work by the end of the week.

The announcement of the meeting Monday comes after a wave of publicity about the sit-in and support from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Obama, who said Sunday the company should honor its commitments to the 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.

One of the 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 Cicero resident said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.

"We're making history," she said.


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