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Legacy of Chicago sit-in: empowering laid-off workers

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With that legal leg to stand on, the workers – members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) – negotiated a deal with Republic and Bank of America.

Worth $1.75 million, it comes in the form of a loan from Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase & Co. to the window and door manufacturer. Bank of America had been criticized for not extending additional credit to the struggling firm, though the bank itself has received $25 billion from the government as part of the $700 billion US bailout of financial institutions.

The workers got "exactly what they are guaranteed under the law, which was the core demand from the beginning," says Carl Rosen, president of the UE's western region and lead union negotiator. What caught the country's imagination, he says, is that "because of the way corporate regulations are in regard to bankrupt companies, everyone gets off scot-free and everyone else gets nothing. The workers are saying, 'We're changing the rules, and we're not going to be left with nothing.' "

Besides owed benefits, the protesting workers won a public-relations battle and drew a new line in the sand of labor-management relations, say some labor experts. In the past, workers would have filed a class-action suit to get severance, accrued vacation pay, and healthcare benefits. But the sit-in put the issue front and center and made it – and potentially other actions like it – a cause célèbre for people worried about job losses.

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