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Tue, Dec 09, 2008 - Page 10 News List

Chicago workers’ sit-in becomes a rallying point

AP , CHICAGO

Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago on Sunday. Jackson, a civil rights leader, has begun meeting with the hundreds of workers occupying a Chicago factory that they say gave them just three days’ notice before closing.

PHOTO: AP

Workers staging a sit-in on the factory floor of their former Chicago employer to protest abruptly losing their jobs last week awaited a meeting between their union and the company yesterday.

The 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off across the US as the economy continues to sour.

On Sunday, they received words of support from US president-elect Barack Obama and a visit from the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also said her office was investigating their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors.

“We never expected this,” said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers.

“We expected to go to jail,” he said.

At a news conference on Sunday, Obama said Republic should follow through on its commitments to its workers.

The workers say they would not leave the plant until they are assured they would receive their severance and vacation pay.

“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.

Jackson delivered turkeys, pledging the support of his Chicago-based civil rights group, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“These workers deserve their wages, deserve fair notice, deserve health security,” Jackson said. “This may be the beginning of long struggle of worker resistance finally.”

Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union that represents the workers, said the company told the union that Bank of America had canceled its financing.

The bank had said in a statement that it was not responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

Republic has not commented on the sit-in.

One of the factory’s workers, Silvia Mazon, said in Spanish she needs the money owed her for an US$1,800 monthly house payment.

The 40-year-old from Cicero said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.

“We’re making history,” she said.

Illinois Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky called it the start of a movement.

“This story has resonated around the world,” she said.

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