Monday, December 8, 2008

Whose obligation is it to pay Republic Windows workers their severance?

I’m not optimistic they’ll ever see dime one, but I’m curious to see what becomes of the employees at the former Republic Windows & Doors plant that suddenly closed down Friday after its bank cut off its line of credit.

Those are the same employees who spent the entire weekend holed up in their former workplace to express disgust with the fact that they learned not only were they out of work, but that they were not getting any of the severance pay to which they are legally entitled because their employer is going out of business.

OFFICIALS WITH THE United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union that represent 260 empoyees at the plant (located on Goose Island) contend that the company was required to give them nearly two months notice of any intent to shut down the plant, and not just the couple of days warning they actually received.

That line of logic seems to be playing politically, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., made a point of stopping off at the plant during the weekend to express solidarity with the now-unemployed workers, and said, “if they had said something 60 days ago, we wouldn’t be here now.”

These workers say they are trying to prevent their now-former employer from carting off the plant’s machinery out of a desire to sell off the assets for whatever money they can get. At least not until some sort of financial settlement is reached with the workers – who join the ranks of millions of other people throughout the years who learned during the Christmas holiday season that they are now out of work.

It is in part because of that aspect that I feel some sympathy with these employees. A time when people are made to feel they are doing their patriotic duty to bolster the U.S. economy by engaging in holiday shopping is the worst time to let some of those people know they no longer have an income, and will have to wait until those holidays are over before they can engage in any serious search for a new job.

I HAVE NEVER understood the line of logic expressed by some people that the winter holidays are the perfect time to lose a job, because it puts one in line to be hired by companies when they are inclined to take on new people in the early weeks of the new year.

Like I said, I’m skeptical about the practical outcome of these protests. I’m curious to see how long the company will be inclined to let them sit about their former plant (although various reports indicate there has been no vandalism, and that some parts of the plant are now being better maintained than when there was no one in there).

Are we soon going to see people getting hauled off by police, with company officials gambling that a majority of the public will sympathize with a corporate entity and assume that anybody arrested by police somehow did something to “deserve it.”

I’m also not convinced that Republic will ever willingly pay out a penny of the severance they owe.

FOR THE COMPANY claims it is broke, which is why its bank (Bank of America) cut off its credit line. They claim they don’t have the money to pay the severance that they’re supposed to.

This could turn out to be one of those cases where a union will someday get a judge to issue an order demanding that the money be paid, but it never does because it doesn’t exist anymore. That future court order could turn out to be a worthless piece of paper.

Then, there’s the villain in this instance (at least, according to the union) – Bank of America.

They say the company is a bad financial risk and not worth having more money put into it, and they claim they should not be forced to be responsible for Republic’s severance payment responsibilities.

AND TO READ the commentary that is running on assorted web sites about this issue, there is a segment of the population that agrees with this logic, feeling that the bank would be harming its own investors if it continued to pump money into a bad business deal.

I’m sure these people are the same ones who view federal laws in this area (which require the 60-days notice of a mass layoff) as some sort of immoral interference by BIG GOVERNMENT into the world of business.

By that line of logic, allowing the bank to cut off the company so that severance cannot be paid is “The American Way” of doing things.

Excuse me if my sense of sarcasm is dripping a little too harsh. But I would have considered putting people out of work during the Christmas holiday to be the complete opposite of “The American Way.”

SO WHAT WILL happen?

The idealist in me would like to think that officials with the company and the union will be able to reach some sort of settlement when they are scheduled to meet Monday. But considering that union officials chose to blow off their last meeting with company officials so they could coordinate a week-end sit-in, I can’t help but feel that union officials feel they are all talked out.

So if union people are talked out and company officials stand by the line of talk that they’re broke, I’m not sure I see where a settlement can be reached.

About the only definite aspect of this issue is that there are a couple hundred more people joining the ranks of the unemployed in Chicago.


EDITOR’S NOTES: PUSH/Rainbow Coalition brought along some food on Sunday for the (,0,667083.story) protesting former employees of Republic Windows & Doors, while others contend those employees should just forget their losses and move on with life.

Police say there has been no activity thus far that gives them a legal reason to remove ( former Republic employees from the plant.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and many political people, including President-elect Barack Obama, are following in the lead of Luis Gutierrez in expressing sympathy for ( the Republic employees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was glad to hear Obama voice his support of these workers. I hope they get every bit of what they're owed and I hope the owners of this company get properly disciplined or fined. When I first heard this story I could not understand that they thought they could even get away with this - but the fact is - they would have gotten away with it if these workers hadn't stood up. Kudos to all of them.