Sign of the Times

Laid-off Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago

Approximately 200-300 workers who are angry about getting laid off from their factory jobs at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors occupied the building today in protest at the move.

Workers who got three days’ notice that their factory was closing down occupied the building and say they won’t go home without assurances they’ll get severance and vacation pay. By law the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer is required to give 60 days’ notice before shutting down its operations

The Trib’s headline writers, being ever-clever, quipped “Republic Windows closing doors.” According to the article, the company, which has been in business since 1965, told employees Wednesday that its main lender, Bank of America, had canceled its line of credit due to a severe downturn in business at the plant.

At the high point of the residential construction market, product sales to home builders totaled $30 million at the company. This year, those sales will total $6 million, said Amy Zimmerman, vice president of sales and marketing.

It’s noted that Bank of America received $25 billion from the government’s financial bailout package. However, the company said in a statement today that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

“Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame,” said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. “If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country.”

Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, “You got bailed out, we got sold out.” Meanwhile, the angry workers have apparently been shoveling snow and cleaning the building.

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30 Comments

Filed under Economy

30 responses to “Sign of the Times

  1. Gosh, imagine what horrors would have occurred if they didn’t have the bailout? Unemployment, plants closing…oh, wait..

    So, tell me again why doing the same thing to the auto industry is a good idea?

  2. True dat.

    Just give the money to the people.

  3. sharonapple88

    Part of the reason banks got a bail out was so that they could continue lending money out to business. Instead, they’re hoarding it,and using it to buy other banks. ARGH!

    So, tell me again why doing the same thing to the auto industry is a good idea?

    Well because the governments would be doing what the banks should be — giving money to a business and help it survive the recession.

  4. Mike — See the next post… 😉

  5. Sharon — This really is reprehensible and quite a good example of the “Wall Street v. Main Street” dichotomy.

    As you rightly point out, a big part of the TARP was to free up credit in order to avoid situations like this.

    That said, I have no idea what the business plan for this company was or whether an infusion of credit would have sustained them during a prolonged downturn in the construction market, but one might think that if retrofitting homes is going to be part of the “stimulus” package involving “greening” America to some degree (i.e., proving incentives to make homes more energy efficient) then a company like this would have potentially had a burgeoning new market for their products — just refashioned a little in terms of how they’re sold, etc.

    Oh well, such is the “free market” I guess. Still, it’s a shame that the workers always seem to get kicked up the arse.

  6. Snerd Gronk

    REd: “… This really is reprehensible and quite a good example of the “Wall Street v. Main Street” dichotomy. “

    SG: A window into the ‘pane’ of the dichotomy, really …

    Snerd

  7. sharonapple88

    This really is reprehensible and quite a good example of the “Wall Street v. Main Street” dichotomy.

    Damn you Wall Street… Well, I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised that banks would try and create the best situation for themselves with the money.

    Oh well, such is the “free market” I guess. Still, it’s a shame that the workers always seem to get kicked up the arse.

    Yes, but there’s only so much ass-kicking that a group can tolerate. 😛

  8. Snerd Gronk

    apple: “… Yes, but there’s only so much ass-kicking that a group can tolerate.”

    SG: Yes, and then the company move offshore …

    Snerd

  9. Well, it’s quite a pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into here when it comes to the offshoring of manufacturing. Most everyone wants cheap, that is to say low-price, goods and of course with labour so comparatively inexpensive overseas in countries like China, Thailand, India, etc. it’s little wonder that companies move their operations here. Meanwhile, people here lose their jobs, the industrial base is eroded, skills and expertise are lost, and it’s replaced with what? Jobs in the “knowledge economy” or some such imaginary thing. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! More like bullshit jobs for crappy wages in the “service” sector which produces absolutely NOTHING.

    Our present economy here in North America makes increasingly little sense. When people are thrown out of work, the “solution” that’s touted by government is to “re-train” the workers. Well, “re-train” them for what exactly? To all become file clerks or hamburger flippers?

    I don’t know. Some days, it just makes me completely mental.

  10. sharonapple88

    Damn you free trade! 😛

  11. Snerd Gronk

    REd: “… Meanwhile, people here lose their jobs, the industrial base is eroded, skills and expertise are lost, and it’s replaced with what?”

    SG: … the manufacture of Financial Instruments ….

    Snerd

  12. I’m not sure that there’s anything inherently wrong with so-called “free trade” but it seems to have gone awry someplace… I really should read Krugman’s Nobel Prize winning book on this as I generally agree with his take on things and that was a primary focus of his thesis.

    Anyway… We do seem to be seriously out of balance here to the point where the present system isn’t sustainable. The erosion and gradual disappearance of the manufacturing sector is something that’s confounded me for the last 20 years or so. It’s a model that just doesn’t make sense at all. Especially so seeing as a lot of that phony “knowledge economy” has gone offshore too. I mean, if you consider the number of people that are graduating with degrees in engineering, maths and sciences in China and India compared to here… It’s frightening.

    And what are we relying on at the moment? Oil derived from tar. Woo-hoo! Oh, not to forget the logs, and rocks that we dig up out of the ground too. Boy oh boy… we’re really on the cutting edge of things, aren’t we?

  13. sharonapple88

    Our present economy here in North America makes increasingly little sense. When people are thrown out of work, the “solution” that’s touted by government is to “re-train” the workers. Well, “re-train” them for what exactly? To all become file clerks or hamburger flippers?

    And with the laws of supple and demand such as they are — with the increase number of file clerks and hamburger flippers hitting the market at the same time, wages go down because there 5 or 6 applicants for a position.

  14. Snerd Gronk

    REd: “… The erosion and gradual disappearance of the manufacturing sector is something that’s confounded me for the last 20 years or so.”

    SG: As an intellectual exercise, if you assume there is a corporate intent on breaking governance, unions, labour standards, unions, etc., the actions seem less confounding.

    Snerd

  15. Snerd — Yes, well the fabrication of elaborate financial instruments so remarkably complex and convoluted that Wall Street bankers actually recruited top mathematicians from Ivy League schools to explain the inner-workings of these fantastic “derivatives” (and concoct them too) — and I’m not making that up, the really did — isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said we no longer “produce” anything. At least not anything of worth.

    I have no idea what can be done to help strengthen what little manufacturing we do still have or to re-build that particular tier of our economy, but something needs to change. Maybe we need to start with the education system and look more to what they do in Germany (still the world’s leading exporter, I believe) where “vocational school” isn’t considered a dirty term and careers in industry and manufacturing are regarded quite highly and not denigrated and sneered at as often seems to be the case here. We can’t all be lawyers for goodness sake!

  16. Snerd — Oh, I understand the motives based on a practical level, as well as the ideological drive behind it. That in itself isn’t what confounds me. It’s the “meta” aspect of it insofar as it being ultimately self-destructive to society as a whole. While it may serve the selfish interest of an individual company (wanting to get out of what they may regard as odious obligations to unions, paying higher wages than competitors, etc., maximizing their profits — all perfectly justifiable in their own right, I suppose) what ends up happening is a gradual beggaring of the middle-class (for lack of a better term for that socio-economic group).

    Part of the problem with the current “crisis” is the situation of people living beyond their means on “cheap” credit (ha!) or more accurately easily available credit, in order to compensate for a drop in real income. Unfortunately, their expectations and lifestyle aspirations or whatever you want to call their “standard of living” hasn’t adjusted to the reality of the situation in that the buying power of their income simply hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living. Therefore, they’ve got steadily into debt. Let’s not forget what’s at the heart of this current situation — the meltdown in the subprime market for mortgages. This is something that simply could not have happened in the past where a percentage of the value of the home needed to be placed as a downpayment and mortgages were granted under rather strict conditions. However, in the amazing world of today (or until recently), these rules went out the window because the financial reality of the past no longer applied. People weren’t able to save enough to get the deposits together and their incomes were nowhere near sufficient to stay within the old guidelines of mortgage/shelter not exceeding 30% or so of income. Ha! It is to laugh.

    I’ve been reading a hilarious book of late. It’s called The New York Times Guide to Personal Finance by Sal Nuccio. It purports to offer “practical advice on family budgets, credit buying, etc.” Only thing is that it was written in 1963. It’s like reading about life on a different planet.

  17. Snerd Gronk

    RED, I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we missed our change when corporations got to define what ‘globalization’ was to look like, to define it as a race to the bottom, rather than the creative use of standards to pull the bottom up.

    Snerd

  18. sharonapple88

    And what are we relying on at the moment? Oil derived from tar. Woo-hoo! Oh, not to forget the logs, and rocks that we dig up out of the ground too. Boy oh boy… we’re really on the cutting edge of things, aren’t we?

    Too bad we couldn’t do something with those things.

    There was a former Ontario provincial politician who noted that Canada needs more corporations with a multinational presence. Nortel. Research in Motion. Harlequin. Magna. Bombardier… It’s depressing to compare them to the numerous branch plants/companies working in the country.

  19. Snerd — I wouldn’t disagree with that.

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of “national pride” when it comes to buying things. I like to buy Canadian, or at least American when I can, and will gladly pay a little more for whatever the product is, but it’s increasingly difficult to do that.

    This said after having had a strip loin steak from New Zealand (or all places) for dinner tonight. I could have bought Canadian beef, but it would have cost me about $2 more. So I’m just as much of a hypocrite as everyone else in that regard.

  20. Sharon — Well, unfortunately we have a comparatively small domestic market (and a number of other obstacles like complex inter-provincial regulation) with some fairly staggering logistical challenges that make situating manufacturing operations here somewhat problematic. Given the choice, there are other locations more conducive to profitability. Although Canada is still fairly competitive (and attractive) on a number of different scores. I don’t want to sound entirely negative about that.

    It would be interesting to see what the government’s “industrial strategy” consists of in broad terms. And that’s not really a political thing — I mean more the thinking coming out of the “real” government — the bureaucracy. I see stuff issued by EDC all the time and occasionally from Industry Canada, but it’s pretty small-bore stuff if you know what I mean. Not too much that really describes what kind of “vision” they have in mind going forward say in 10 or 20 years. If such a thing even exists. You’d think they’d have some folks doing “blue sky” work like that, but who knows?

  21. Snerd Gronk

    REd: “… Part of the problem with the current “crisis” is the situation of people living beyond their means on “cheap” credit (ha!) or more accurately easily available credit, in order to compensate for a drop in real income.”

    SG: Very precise phrasing there … ‘available credit’.

    However, while I completely agree, I wouldn’t put as much weight on the analytical assessment of people living beyond their means, even though it now is demonstrably true that they ‘were’.

    This might be the long way round, but … I have always been ‘impressed’ with people’s read on the Darwinian concept of Survival of the Fittest, in which the ‘strong’ who ‘survived’ do so by being strong and overcoming obstacles, i.e. overcoming their environment. What he was actually saying I think, was the environment determines who survives, as evidenced by changes in the environment. In fact, those most fit in a given environment are typically those mist unfit, when that environment changes.

    In this case, the best way to benefit in a rising market, is through leveraging. They were the fittest!

    Secondly, those entrusted with managing our markets were NOT saying, ‘Look, all the safety devises are off our markets, this is now the wild west, so buyer be extra cautious’. They were saying the market will protect itself, therefore it’s safe. And, ‘This isn’t a bubble, it’s just froth …!” Oh and don’t forget, “Defeat Terrorism, Shop!” In fact, “W”z economy was based on consumer spending … you don’t suppose there was any conflict of interest there in supporting, promoting and expanding that spending, do you, given all their other fuckups …?

    If the experts, and those lending money didn’t see an end to growth, how could the non-insider? Given that, to have been otherwise, to have been other than grow and/or leverage focused, would have to have been ‘unfit’, in that environment.

    At one point in my life I have sufficient cash to buy one of the less expensive lots in Broadmead
    with 40% of that value left over to build. I bumped into a developer while walking the lots who said houses at $150K were unsupportable with the average income in Victoria. To him this meant the current real estate values were unsustainable, and he was selling his holding properties to await the correction. Sadly I followed his advice. History soon demonstrated the unfitness of our caution …

    So while I agree that we are all ultimately responsive for our financial decisions, the American people and the world were set up …

    Snerd

  22. Tony Smith

    I hate the bailout and the impact of the recession on poor folks, but people are really rushing to judgment, particularly with respect to Bank of America. First, BoA is not required to provide financing to companies. It had extended a line of credit to the company in this case, but because revenues plunged, the bank found that line of credit too risky. Try applying for credit with a job loss. It’s the same concept.

    The company is ultimately responsible for paying its workers and complying with state and federal labor laws. Those laws have exceptions for companies in economic distress, and it is unclear whether even Republic Windows has violated the law. My instincts make me want to bash the bank and company too, but the bailout does not require banks to continue handing out money, even where a company is going under.

  23. sharonapple88

    Part of the problem with the current “crisis” is the situation of people living beyond their means on “cheap” credit (ha!) or more accurately easily available credit, in order to compensate for a drop in real income.

    And the money for all this credit often came from investors (especially if the results were bundled up into bonds for resale). In an odd way, some people would support the redistribution of wealth, but only if they can find a way to benefit from it.

  24. Tony — Perhaps the same standard should have been applied to BofA. No bailout for you! Bad credit risk. Sorry. Too bad, so sad. Better luck next time. Come back when you don’t need the money. Isn’t that usually how bank loans work? Quite the double-standard, I’d say.

  25. sharonapple88

    Sharon — Well, unfortunately we have a comparatively small domestic market (and a number of other obstacles like complex inter-provincial regulation) with some fairly staggering logistical challenges that make situating manufacturing operations here somewhat problematic. Given the choice, there are other locations more conducive to profitability. Although Canada is still fairly competitive (and attractive) on a number of different scores. I don’t want to sound entirely negative about that.

    All of that is true…. I’m just jealous of jealous of Sweden.

  26. sharonapple88

    I’m just jealous of jealous of Sweden.

    Ep. I mean, “I’m just jealous of Sweden’s economy at times.”

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  28. Moebius

    I mean, “I’m just jealous of Sweden’s economy at times.”

    Those gargantuan Volvo-driving, Ikea-furnished Swedish bastards!?

    Don’t be jealous of them.

  29. sharonapple88

    Well, it doesn’t help that they won the gold in hockey in 2006.

  30. Moebius

    Yeah, thanks for the reminder.

    😦

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