Justice Follows Direct Action: Former Boss of Occupied Chicago Factory Jailed
Richard Gillman, the former CEO of Chicago's Republic Windows and Doors factory where over 200 workers organized a victorious sit-in last year, has been sent to jail on eight charges including felony, theft, fraud, and money laundering. After the judge announced the $10 million bail, the shocked and dazed Gillman, dressed in a pin-striped suit, was hauled away to the county jail.
Republic workers captured the attention of the world when they occupied their plant on December 5, 2008 calling for the severance and vacation pay they were due. The sit-in ended six days later when the Bank of America and other lenders to Republic agreed to pay the workers the approximately $2 million owed to them. Recently, the workers won another victory with the arrest of Gillman.
The prosecutors charge that Gillman defrauded creditors of over $10 million, and then went ahead to use company money to complete payments on leases for two luxury cars – while his employees went without pay.
According to court records Gillman also secretly sent three semi-trailers full of equipment from the Republic factory to a non-unionized factory in Iowa without the consent of Republic board members and creditors. Luckily, however, the organized Republic workers followed the trailers, and during the occupation, prevented executives from entering the factory to take company documents that now make up much of the case against Gillman and other Republic officials.
"Gillman and others knew this company was headed for closure," Anita Alvarez, the Cook County state's attorney, told reporters. "And instead of fulfilling their legal obligations to their creditors and their moral obligations to their employees, they devised a scheme to benefit themselves."
"We knew Gillman was lying to us for a long time, now the rest of the world knows it too," said Armando Robles, the President of UE Local 1110, the Republic workers' union. "Workers suffer with bad bosses all the time so this is a victory for all workers."
Gillman's arrest is just one of the results of the Republic workers' actions. In February of this year, Serious Materials ended up buying up Republic for $145 million, promising to put the unemployed workers back on the job. The California-based Serious makes heating efficient windows.
"Having another company reopen the factory was always our hope when we occupied the factory in December," Robles told the New York Times.
Kevin Surace, the chief executive officer of Serious, was drawn to the Republic workers' story, leading him to eventually acquire the bankrupt factory. "It was very sad to see what looks like it could be a world-class operation just fall on terrible hard times and then all of the workers quite abruptly laid off," he said. "We saw a great opportunity with a great facility and great workers." Another thing that attracted Surace to the Republic plant was that 90% of the equipment was still there – thanks to the workers who prevented the bosses from hauling it away.
However, only fifteen former Republic employees have been rehired so far. According to Chicago-based journalist Kari Lydersen of In These Times, the delay in hiring more workers could have to do with the fact that Obama's federal stimulus for green jobs and heating efficient windows has been slower in producing results than people had hoped. Yet Lydersen points out that the Republic workers "know they can't just sit back and wait for the stimulus or the factory's new owner to make everything all right."
Meanwhile, Gillman is facing justice thanks to the workers' actions. Melvin Maclin, a former Republic worker who is currently unemployed and the father of six children, commented on Gillman's arrest in a UE statement, "We feel like justice has finally come and we all hope that this is the beginning of more bosses being held accountable for their crimes against workers."
Benjamin Dangl is the author of the forthcoming book, Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, (AK Press, 2010). He edits TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Email Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com