Factory Sit-In a Reminder to Treat Employees Fairly

The New York Times reports on the fourth day of a Chicago factory sit-in:

Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.

The workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the 60 days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs.

Some of them are blaming Bank of America for not being able to provide payroll money. If B of A hadn’t kept its bailout money to itself, the theory goes, then the workers would have gotten their due. I can’t tell who’s at fault here, but the union and management did sign a contract and should honor it.

This story makes me realize how lucky these people were to belong to a union in the first place. They received $14/hour + medical benefits + retirement benefits. How many other corporations–including those employing white-collar workers–offered those combined perks, plus the perceived ability to stage a sit-in if contracts are violated?

I don’t see Sun Microsystems workers occupying their empty offices. As a white-collar functionary, you’re either salaried (with perks, but potentially low hourly pay, depending on your work demands) or a contractor (sans perks). This classification does not include executives.

Union workers retain rights that many other workers never had access to. Old-school unions are unsustainably expensive and inflexible, but worker rights in some form need to remain in place. For that reason, I hope the Chicago workers keep sitting there, reminding everyone that not everyone who has been treated unjustly takes it lying down.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.