Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered all state agencies Monday to stop doing business with Bank of America to try to pressure the bank into helping laid-off workers staging a sit-in at their shuttered factory.
The governor wants the North Carolina-based bank to use some of its federal bailout money to resolve the protest by about 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors.
The sit-in began Friday and has fast become a symbol of the sour economy’s impact on labor. The workers have promised to remain inside the plant in shifts until they get assurances they will receive severance and vacation pay.
“We hope that this kind of leverage and pressure will encourage Bank of America to do the right thing for this business,” Blagojevich said from outside the plant. “Take some of that federal tax money that they’ve received and invest it by providing the necessary credit to this company so these workers can keep their jobs.”
Republic has not made a move to evict the workers since they began the sit-in Friday, the day they lost their jobs with just a few days’ notice.
Their plight has drawn support from President-elect Barack Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others.
“We’re going strong,” Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union, said earlier Monday. “We’re not going anywhere until there’s resolution.”
Fried said the company told the union that Bank of America canceled its financing. Bank of America said Saturday it wasn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.
A Bank of America spokesman said she could not comment, but that the company was preparing a response. Republic officials have not returned messages for comment.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez said Republic representatives would meet with union and bank officials.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said from the shuttered plant that he would talk to fellow senators about reminding banks that taxpayer dollars are not for dividends or executive salaries.
“We have been sending billions of dollars to banks like Bank of America and the reason we have sent them the money is to tell them that they had to loan this money out to companies just like Republic so that we can keep these companies in business and not lose these jobs here in the United States,” he said.
The governor, meanwhile, said the state plans to pursue a court injunction today to make sure federal law is followed in giving workers benefits. And state Attorney General Lisa Madigan was investigating the company.
The laid-off workers are occupying the plant around-the-clock in eight-hour shifts, Fried said. About 60 were inside early Monday.
Obama said Sunday the company should honor its commitments to the laid-off employees.
“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.
One of the 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 Cicero resident said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.
“We’re making history,” she said.