Workers demand bailout money for ailing Chicago manufacturer

"They got bailed out! We got sold out!”

That was the cry of workers yesterday protesting the closing of Republic Windows and Doors at the Bank of America headquarters in downtown Chicago.

About 100 employees, carrying signs and marching in the cold rain and snow, demanding the bank use federal bailout funds to help their company and its workers.

“The bank has received millions and millions of dollars from the federal government to assist these companies so they can keep operating,” says worker Vincente Rangel, 34. “It’s not helping us. It’s just killing us. The bank is keeping the money, but it’s not helping us to survive.”

Republic, a 43-year-old family owned window manufacturer on Goose Island, announced this week it would close Friday, putting about 300 employees out of work. 

Company officials say the business is shutting down because Bank of America refuses to provide continued financing.

The company is the victim of the drastic downturn in the housing construction market, according to a letter signed by Republic CEO Rich Gillman and distributed to workers. The company formerly pulled in $4 million per month in revenue, and now earns $2.9 million, Gillman wrote.

Some Republic jobs pay $14 an hour and include health and retirement benefits, workers say.

In addition to closing, the company announced it did not have the money to pay the 60 days wages required by the federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

Republic employee Melvin Mackin, 54, a Bronzeville resident, husband and father of six, says he was shocked by the news that Republic was closing.

“The company is pointing their fingers at the bank, the bank is pointing fingers at the company, and it’s us that suffering," says Mackin, who has been with the company for seven years. "It’s right here at Christmas, and it’s just a mess.”

Under the WARN Act, companies are required to either give 60 days notice of its closing or pay workers 60 days wages from the announcement of the closing. Mark Meinster, international representative with the United Electrical Workers, says the union is worried Republic will liquidate its assets, leaving nothing for the workers.

“We want them to make an agreement right now that they need to pay the workers what they’re owed under the law,” Meinster says.

Union officials say the company’s $5 million line of credit was originally opened with LaSalle Bank, which was bought out by Bank of America last year. Bank of America received $25 billion in federal bailout cash.

Bank of America Midwest spokesperson Rob Darmanin says the bank cannot comment on client relationships for confidentiality reasons. 

Union officials say U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, D-7, and Luis Guitierrez, D-7, are both involved in the issue. Davis' director of communications, Ian Cohen, said the Congressman called Bank of America to help find a solution." They were unavailable for comment on the matter yesterday.

The crisis at Republic may soon spread to other Chicago manufacturers. Meinster says Republic is a cornerstone among Goose Island businesses, and is not alone in having financial problems.

“That could be 50,000 jobs here in the city if the banks allow these manufacturers to go down,” Meinster says.

Glenn Johnson, a member of the board of directors of of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, agrees.

"I'm hearing horror stories about banks coming in and saying, 'It's been a great relationship and we'll miss you, but we just don't like your numbers, and we're just not going to renew your line of credit,"' says Johnson, who also served as chairman of the organization.

Workers at Republic are deeply worried about the months ahead.

“These people – What are they going to do now?” says Rangel. “Without pay, without insurance. They’ve got family. They’ve got kids. Myself, I’ve got a son. What am I going to do?”

Discuss

DAVION Y, 04-25-2009

The economic crisis flared unemployment and foreclosures around the globe. That is why the government is doing their best to keep the economy afloat until the crisis subsides. One way is by asking banks with $100 billion worth to undergo bank stress tests to determine how long and capable these banks are to stay. Maybe, that way it can truly help our economy bounce back.