Laid Off Workers Occupy Chicago Factory
A group of workers in Chicago have entered their fourth day of occupying a closed factory to protest the company’s decision to shut down the plant. The laid-off workers at Republic Windows and Doors have been conducting a sit-in at the Chicago plant since Friday. Workers say their former bosses gave them only three days’ notice of the closing. Many of the employees had worked at the factory for decades. Union organizers say the workers are still owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the sixty days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. On Sunday, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson visited the factory workers.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: “These workers must be congratulated for having the courage, in the great tradition of Dr. King, in the tradition of Cesar Chavez and the tradition of Rosa Parks. Your sitting down in many ways allows America to stand up, workers all around the nation who are now facing massive layoffs. It’s your job. It’s your plant. Stay there and fight for them ’til justice comes, and justice will come.”
The company told workers last Tuesday that the plant was closing because Bank of America had canceled Republic’s line of credit. The laid-off workers have hoisted placards saying “Bank of America: You got bailed out. We got sold out.” On Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama voiced support for the workers.
President-elect Barack Obama: “Number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments. And number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan that we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so that we’re not seeing these kinds of circumstances again.”
The factory occupation has attracted international attention.
Labor organizer Leah Fried said, “We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s.”
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533,000 Jobs Lost in November; 2 Million in 2008
The factory occupation began on Friday, the same day the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 533,000 jobs were lost in November, the highest monthly total since 1974. A total of nearly two million jobs have been lost this year. At a congressional hearing on Friday, Keith Hall of the Bureau of Labor Statistics told Congressman Elijah Cummings that this was one of the worst job reports in the agency’s history.
Keith Hall: “If I were to characterize this jobs report, I would say this is a dismal jobs report. There’s very little in this report that’s positive. This is maybe one of the worst jobs reports that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ever produced.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Ever?”
Cummings: “And how long has the Bureau been around?”
Hall: “124 years.”
Cummings: “124 years. And so, that means that we’re sliding down a slippery slope fast.”
The nation’s official unemployment rate has risen to 6.7 percent. The New York Times reports the unemployment rate does not include those too discouraged to look for work any longer or those working fewer hours than they would like. Add those people to the roster of the unemployed, and the rate hit a record 12.5 percent in November. Meanwhile, the proportion of homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure rose to an all-time high in the third quarter.