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Monday, Mar 30, 2009, 5:37 pm

It’s Official: Republic Windows Violated Labor Laws

By Jeremy Gantz

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Remember the successful Republic Windows and Doors factory protest and occupation? It was one of the few pieces of good news for workers during a year (2008) filled with dreadful lay-offs.

After the factory's workers were abruptly and illegally laid-off early last December, 260 workers – all members of United Electrical (UE) Workers Local 1100 – occupied the factory to demand $1.75 million in severance and vacation pay and to protest the early cancellation of their health insurance.

Nearly four months later, the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that the family-owned company did indeed violate federal labor laws. The government found that Republic...

–illegally created an alter-ego company in Red Oak, Iowa in order to avoid its collective bargaining obligations with UE.
–illegally shut down operations in Chicago and transferred work to Red Oak, Iowa without notice or bargaining with the Union.
-illegally failed to provide information for bargaining or process grievances as required under the collective bargaining agreement.

The company also violated the the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) act by failing to give workers the legally required 60-day advance notice of the shutdown—which is extended to 75 days under Illinois law.

The NLRB will now seek to settle the charges with Republic. If no settlement can be reached, the matter will go before an administrative law judge to order resolution.

“All this is too late to change the abuses of our rights by Republic management. We were deliberately denied our rights and protections under the union contract and law, only the occupation of our factory in December 2008 won justice for the workers," said Armando Robles, president of the UE Local to which former Republic members belonged.

In February, Serious Materials of California, which specializes in energy-saving building products, agreed to buy the factory, putting all former Republic employees back to work at their former rate of pay. It gets better: UE will continue to represent the workers.

But the NLRB's finding in no way ensures that what ex-Republic workers were put through won't happen again. U.S. labor laws are routinely flouted with impunity. With Hilda Solis at the helm, Obama's Labor Department will surely enforce laws on the books better than the Bush administration. But new laws are clearly needed to strengthen workers' rights.

"Companies routinely violate workers rights with no penalty," said Leah Fried, of the Chicago UE local. "There are more fines involved in a parking ticket than breaking federal labor law. Without the passage of The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) more workers will have to resort to non-violent tactics like the plant occupation to get their most basic rights respected and to be able to support their families."

And yet, EFCA's passage looks more uncertain than ever.

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America's War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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