Monday, December 8, 2008

CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said early Monday that a meeting arranged for later in the day would address the concerns of workers who have been staging a sit-in on the factory floor of their former Chicago employer to protest abruptly losing their jobs last week.

Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, said the 4 p.m. meeting would be between the union representing the workers, officials of the now-closed Republic Windows and Doors and representatives of the bank that has canceled its financing of the company.

Gutierrez said Republic officials had signed a waiver permitting the opening of its financial records at the meeting.

In announcing the meeting, Gutierrez once again expressed his solidarity with the protesting workers, as did President-elect Barack Obama.

Obama told a news conference Sunday that Republic should follow through on its commitments to the 200 workers, who say they won’t leave the plant until they are assured they’ll receive their severance and vacation pay.

“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,” Obama said.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also said her office was investigating the company, which has not commented on the sit-in.

To their amazement, the workers have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off nationwide as the economy continues to sour.

“We never expected this,” said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. “We expected to go to jail.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered turkeys, pledging the support of his Chicago-based civil rights group, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“These workers deserve their wages, deserve fair notice, deserve health security,” Jackson said. “This may be the beginning of long struggle of worker resistance finally.”

Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union that represents the workers, said the company told the union that Bank of America has canceled its financing. The bank had said in a statement that it wasn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

One of the factory’s workers, Silvia Mazon, said in Spanish that she needs the money owed to her for an $1,800 monthly house payment. The 40-year-old from Cicero said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.

“We’re making history,” she said.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, called it the start of a movement. “This story has resonated around the world,” she said.

Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Chicago contributed to this report.

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