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The Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Factory Layoffs Are a 'Wake-Up Call to America'

Obama backs workers, Rev. Jackson takes them food, Madigan taking a closer look

Mary Houlihan Abdon M. Pallasch

Workers an supporters line the factory floor Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008 on the third day of a sit-in at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. The band of 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for the millions of laid off workers across the country after the company abruptly fired them last week prompting them to occupy their former workplace. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

President-elect Barack Obama on Sunday afternoon put himself on the
side of laid-off workers who continued to peacefully occupy the factory
and warehouse at Republic Windows & Doors.

Later in the day, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced she has begun investigating the factory's "sudden closure."

200 workers are seeking vacation and severance pay, as well as their
final paychecks. During a news conference announcing his new Veterans
Affairs director, Obama said he understands their plight.

"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.

"When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts.
Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and
equipment and their work forces.

"So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned
their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow
through on those commitments. Number two, I think it is important for
us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place
helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of
circumstances again."

At the factory, workers continued to press for what they say is owed
them. Apolinar Cabrera was looking forward to the birth of his third
child, but now he's wondering how he will support his growing family.

Cabrera is among the laid-off workers who continue to peacefully occupy the factory after Republic shut down Friday.

"We just want what is owed to us by the law," said Cabrera, a
17-year employee. "We are angry, worried and sad at the same time."

Support for the workers has come from across the city and the
country, said United Electrical Workers union officials on Sunday
morning as the Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered a truckload of food to the

"This is a nonviolent wake-up call to all of America," Jackson said.
"It's the beginning of a bigger movement to resist economic violence."

The closing was due to Bank of America withdrawing a credit line
because of the company's declining sales. Union leaders say the company
failed to give workers the 60 days' notice required by federal law, and
that Bank of America barred Republic from paying for the 60-day period
or for vacations.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) has brokered a meeting set for this afternoon between the company, Bank of America and the union.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Madigan said she is looking at all
aspects of the company's closing, including whether it has met
obligations to its employees regarding notice, any unpaid wages,
severance, and vacation pay.

"I am extremely concerned with the actions of this company, which
are having a significant impact on employees and their families," she
said in a statement.

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