They emerged from the factory doors, waving fists in the air and shouting.
"Yes, We Did."
Workers at Republic Windows and Doors celebrated tonight as they announced they had reached an end to their six-day sit-in with a $1.75 million settlement from Bank of American and JP Morgan Chase.
"We said we would not go out until we get our justice, and we have it," said Armando Robles, president of the local 1110 United Electrical Workers, on Wednesday night.
The settlement will provide each worker with 60 days pay and health insurance and any accrued vacation days, which on average will mean about $6,000 per person. Bank of America will provide $1.35 million of the loan, along with $400,000 from JP Morgan Chase. The money, which is technically loaned to the Republic, will be put into an escrow account that the union will control.
Union officials say their victory is a sign that change is coming to the city and perhaps the nation.
"This is about more than just money. This is about what can be achieved what workers organize and stand up for justice," said Carl Rosen, regional president of U.E. "It's also a wake up call to corporate America that the rules have changed in this country.”
Ricardo Caceras, an employee at Republic, agreed.
"It's a big day right now," says Caceras. "Not only for us…for each person, each union, working in this country. Right now there's a change."
The workers began their sit-in last Friday after being told only three days earlier that their plant, Republic Windows and Doors, would be closing because the company said Bank of America would not give them the $5 million they needed to stay open. The workers decided to remain inside the Goose Island factory until the bank agreed to give them severance pay - 60 days pay that is required for any closing plant under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act and their vacation days.
Negotiations began last Friday and have been ongoing during the week. They ended last night around 8 p.m. at Bank of America headquarters, 231 S. LaSalle St. The union negotiating team then returned to the plant and met with the workers, who voted unanimously to accept the settlement.
U.S. Representative Luis Gutierrez D-4), who was instrumental in the negotiating process, praised Bank of America's willingness to negotiate on the matter. He said much of the reason negotiations were drawn out over so many days was the Republic's reluctance to come to the table for the workers
"They came to the bargaining table wanting us to fight so that the managers could receive pay and bonuses. So that the managers could receive payment on their Mercedes and luxury cars as part of the settlement," said Gutierrez. "We said, 'We didn't come here to take care of the management that drove this company into the ground.'"
Gutierrez said workers would receive checks for the lump sum they are owed from Bank of America in about five or six days. Illinois President for Bank of America, David Rudis, said he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.
"The bank was not obligated to fund the initial dollars of the loan, but Bank of America did," said Rudis. "We did because we were concerned about the workers and we were concerned about doing the right thing at the right time."
In addition to the settlement, the union announced it would be starting a new foundation, called Windows of Opportunity, devoted to reopening the factory. The money for the foundation will come from the union and the thousands of dollars in donations to workers over the last few days, says Bob Kingsley, director of organization for U.E.
Raul Flores, a worker at the factory, says he is somewhat sad the sit-in is over. The end means he would not be seeing many of his friends at Republic for a while.
Overall, Flores says he is focused on what they have accomplished together.
"I'm very happy, very happy. This is the people's victory. It's not our victory," Flores says. "Everybody who supported us. If it wasn't for them, this couldn't have happened."