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Republic Meeting with Union Ends without Resolution, Another Meeting Scheduled for Today

A meeting between union leaders, bankers and the owners of Republic Windows & Doors ended late on Monday without a resolution, according to union representatives. But union members say they are cautiously optimistic for a second meeting that is set for 1 p.m. today. Republic announced last Wednesday that it would be closing its doors two days later-on Friday, December 7. (CLICK HERE for related story.)

Workers have been occupying the plant since Friday, fighting for the compensation that they believe is owed to them. Leaders say they will stay until a resolution is reached. The Bank of America, Republic's main lender, which had pulled its line of credit, resulting in the closing, issued a statement late Monday stating that the company, not the bank, had the ability to choose whether to honor what it owed workers.

"We agree with the statements of public officials that Republic Windows & Doors should do all it can to honor its obligations to its employees and minimize the impact of failure on those employees," reads the written statement from Bank of America. "We are reaching out to the management and ownership of the company to see what they can do to help resolve the issue."

Bank of America spokesperson Julie Westerman told DWM that the company plans to make a further statement this morning.

Republic issued a statement yesterday saying officials knew since mid-October that the company would be closing, and that on November 25, the company requested permission from the Bank of America to issue vacation pay to all employees. According to Republic, that request was rejected on November 26.

"Despite inheriting a company bloated with overhead and lacking any type of manufacturing discipline and/or productivity, the company makes significant improvements only to encounter and unprecedented decline in new home construction, which led to a decline of company sales to new construction of 80 percent," reads the statement from Republic, in reference to the period leading up to the closure. "This placed the company in the impossible position of not having the ability to further reduce fixed costs, coupled with severe constrictions in the capital debt markets and an unwillingness of the current debt holder to continue funding the operations."

Repeated attempts to reach Republic officials for comment have been unsuccessful. (CLICK HERE for statement.)

Monday's meeting took place at the Bank of America on LaSalle Street. Members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, Local 1110, say they were denied severance and vacation pay. A committee, headed by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D - Ill.), was representing the workers.

Many workers present at the sit-in said they were surprised by the company's closing while many were not, noting missing equipment in recent weeks. Some even hold out hope for new owners.

"We think the company could have a future," union representative Leah Fried told DWM magazine, alluding to the possibility of new management.

She said the episode began on December 2.

"People were told, 'that's it,'" Fried said. "We demanded that Bank of America negotiate with us. Rep. Guttierez helped us (in bringing the two parties together.)"

On December 4, a vote took place and a decision was made to remain in the building and organize with committees that would have various responsibilities.

"We have shifts each day with 50 people per shift," she said.

She explained that the hours for each shift is the same as the actual production hours. (6 a.m. - 2 p.m.; 2 p.m. - 10 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.)

"We're getting a lot of donations from people," she said.

At the heart of the issue is notification and earned pay.

"We informed the company (that) they can't do that [give three days notice]," said Tim Curtin, a representative for Local 1110.

He says it is a violation of the Warn Labor Act, which requires that employers give advance notice so that union members can negotiate closure. (The WARN Act helps ensure advance notice in cases of qualified plant closings and mass layoffs. The U.S. Department of Labor has issued these guides to provide workers and employers with an overview of their rights and responsibilities under the provisions of the WARN Act.)

"What happened was that there was no notice. If there is no notice, then the company must pay [employees for what they have earned]," Curtin said. According to Curtin, Republic management said that Bank of America will not allow them to release funds.

"[They] cannot violate the law," he said.

Referring to yesterday's 4 p.m. meeting with Bank of America, he said the union has been trying to get the parties to negotiate since last week.

"We will not leave [this facility] until we get some measure of justice. We will see [ that hopefully] sooner rather than later," Curtin added.
That message was shared throughout those on-hand at the sit-in.

"The issue is about our severance," said Luis Liri, who has been with the company for 16 years. "If the bank had issued our severance, there would be no issue."

He said the workers had no idea that this was about to happen. He acknowledged that production was down, but he attributed that to the economy and the time of the year.

"We expected the volume to eventually go up. We felt this time was no different than any other year," said Liri.

No one was more surprised than the most senior production worker, Lalo Munoc, who has been with the company for 34 years.

"Four years ago, everything was working good," he said. "We had a lot of work. At that time, I thought we would be here for a long time, but they gave us a big surprise."

Munoc told DWM he is committed to staying at the plant until a resolution is reached.

"We want the money that is due [to] us," he said. "If they pay [everything,] we will leave here. If not, we will [stay]."

Munoc pointed out that the building in which Republic was located was sold to the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company about two years ago. Thinking optimistically, he is hoping that there will be negotiations to bring in another manufacturer and, with it, opportunities for employment.

Raul Flores joined the company eight years ago.

"I came right out of high school. I worked in production and on the glass line. We were making a lot of windows," he said.

He said strange things started to happen about three weeks ago.

"One day, we're told that there is no material," Flores said. "Then two weeks ago, we went home [on a Friday night] and [when we returned on Monday] machinery was gone. There were eight trailers outside. We knew [what was going on] and we became very suspicious."

Martin Rodriguez, a 16-year veteran whose specialty was making bow windows, also knew something was wrong "when they started moving equipment two weeks ago."

"We came to work on a Monday and by 10 a.m. we saw no machines," Rodriguez said. "'What happened to our equipment?' We never got an answer."

He said it wasn't just machinery either.

"We were missing something else every day," Rodriguez said. "There was no material. We knew something was going to happen."
At this point, Rodriguez just wants his money.

Recalling the first day of the sit-in, Flores said he was angry and scared. But with support from the community, he feels a sense of strength.

"We will not leave until we get what is deserved. We don't deserved to be locked out on the street," he said.

Flores, like his fellow co-workers, is concerned about finding a job.

"I have to support my family. It is going to be hard, but I must find a job," he added.

For now, the fate of 240 employees is in the hands of Bank of America and those who are negotiating on their behalf. (CLICK HERE to visit the union's website.)

DWM reported on Sunday, December 7, that Gillman was linked to a new window company, Echo Windows, incorporated in the state of Illinois on November 18. Yesterday, two days later, Republic issued a statement about the closure that also made light of his involvement with Echo. Just last Thursday-one day after the announcement that Republic was closing-TRACO announced that it had sold its residential vinyl replacement window business to then unknown Echo. (CLICK HERE here for related story.)

The Republic story has garnered national attention, including that of President-elect Barack Obama and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has ordered all Illinois state agencies to cease dealing with the Bank of America until the issue is resolved. (CLICK HERE for related article from the New York Times.)

Stay tuned to www.dwmmag.com for more updates as the story unfolds, and the results of today's meeting.

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