Laid-off workers end sit-in

Mitchum writes for the Chicago Tribune.

Laid-off workers at Republic Windows & Doors agreed to leave the closed Illinois plant they've been occupying in protest for six days, accepting a deal Wednesday night that will give each of them about $6,000.

Workers will receive about eight weeks' severance pay, accrued vacation time and two months of healthcare coverage, officials said. About $1.75 million will be put into an escrow account to be supervised by the workers' union.

"The occupation is over. We have achieved victory," said United Electrical Workers President Armando Robles. "We said we will not go until we get justice, and we have it."

The sit-in began Friday after the plant gave the workers just three days' notice that it was closing. They vowed to stay until receiving assurances that they would receive severance and vacation pay. Federal law requires 60 days' notice of closure or substantial layoffs.

Earlier Wednesday, about 100 supporters of the workers gathered in downtown Chicago, where negotiators were meeting. Some demonstrators beat drums as others chanted: "They got bailed out. We got sold out."

Bank of America said in a statement that it would lend the company $1.35 million to pay workers. The rest of the money comes from JP Morgan Chase & Co., which owns 40% of Republic.

The deal came after more than 15 hours of negotiations involving the two banks, union representatives, state officials and lawmakers. About 200 workers at the factory then voted unanimously to accept it.

Union officials have said that most of the workers earn no more than $30,000 a year.

David Rudis, Illinois president for Bank of America, said the bank worked with the company "to do the right thing for employees." He said the loan was "to be used exclusively to pay employees," even though the bank was under no obligation as the company's lender.

The statement said the company lost $10 million over the last two years.

JP Morgan agreed Wednesday to lend $400,000 to Republic for the workers, spokesman Tom Kelly said. JP Morgan had lent the company $12 million between July 2007 and last July, he said. JP Morgan, whose Midwest chairman is William Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, resigned its seat on Republic's board in July, Kelly said.

The workers' sit-in drew national attention and put a human face on financial woes confronting an increasing number of workers across the country.

"It typifies some of the worst fears people have right now of losing their jobs, not having any notice of it and not getting any kind of severance package," said Geoff Smith of the Chicago-based Woodstock Institute, a nonprofit that promotes community investment.

Bank of America and JP Morgan were two of the highest-profile recipients of federal bailout money in October, with Bank of America receiving $15 million and JP Morgan receiving $25 million in federal funds.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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