Republic Sit-In Draws National Attention

December 8, 2008

What started as just another closure in a year that has been full of bad news has turned into a rallying point for union supporters nationwide and a sore subject for those who perceive government bailout funds as going to corporate officers while blue collar workers are left with nothing. President-elect Barack Obama has publicly expressed his support for Republic Window & Doors’ protesting former employees, as have Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Rev. Jesse Jackson among others.

The Republic factory sit-in, described to the Associated Press as “the start of a movement” by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Congresswoman, the story generated a large amount of media coverage, including frequent reports on national networks and cable new channels over the past several days.

Responding to a question at a press conference on Sunday, President-elect Obama said, "The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy." According to reports, those comments produced cheers among the workers holed up in the Republic factory.

Republic, which has not initiated efforts to evict the protesting employees, has avoided the majority of public criticism, with protesters instead taking aim at Bank of America. Bank of America was recently granted $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, among others, has demanded that the bank use some of that money to provide credit to Republic and allow the company to pay workers what they are owed. He also took action to discontinue any business done by the state of Illinois with Bank of America until the issue is satisfactorily resolved.

All the attention has apparently earned a victory–if only a small one–for Republic's workers.  Although a final agreement has not been announced, Bank of America officials announced yesterday that they sent a letter to Republic management offering to extent the company's credit line enough to allow it to pay the workers the severance and vacation pay they are legally entitled to.

In an unrelated development, Blagovech was arrested yesterday on corruption charges, accused of trying to sell President-elect Obama’s vacated seat in the U.S. Senate.

What follows is one of the numerous reports on the Republic factory protest featured on CNN:

The Republic portion of the following video from the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC is fairly extensive, but it follows other news stories. It includes Obama's comments, as well as interviews with a Republic union representative and employee.