Illinois Manufacturing Workers Locked Out and Fired for One-Hour Strike

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank March 26, 2019

Headly Manufacturing workers picketing during the 6 a.m. unfair labor practice strike outside of Chicago. After the strike, they were locked out of their workplace and unable to work or receive their paychecks. (Photo: Manny Diaz, Arise Chicago)

As the sun was still ris­ing last Fri­day morn­ing, employ­ees from Head­ly Man­u­fac­tur­ing out­side of Chica­go par­tic­i­pat­ed in a 6:00 a.m. hour-long unfair labor prac­tice strike. But when the approx­i­mate­ly 25 work­ers tried to return to their jobs, they were locked out of the build­ing, unable to com­plete what was many of their last days or col­lect their final paychecks.

Accord­ing to a press release from the work­ers’ jus­tice orga­ni­za­tion Arise Chica­go, Head­ly had threat­ened indi­vid­ual employ­ees that they would be fired, which inspired them to take col­lec­tive action.

We strike for our­selves because we don’t have any­thing to sup­port our fam­i­lies, because we need our jobs to put food on the table,” strik­ing work­er Mario Albor told In These Times. Right now, we don’t have jobs. We don’t know what to do.”

For sev­en years, Albor has worked for the Broad­view-based Head­ly Man­u­fac­tur­ing, which pro­duces pre­ci­sion-drawn met­al stamps. He said he was laid off with many of his co-work­ers with no writ­ten expla­na­tion. Head­ly did not return phone and email requests for com­ment from In These Times.

Albor, who says he worked for the qual­i­ty-con­trol depart­ment, assumes Head­ly wants to rehire staffers with­out ben­e­fits like insur­ance and vaca­tion that employ­ees cur­rent­ly receive. Crain’s Chica­go Busi­ness report­ed that recent job post­ings include slight­ly high­er wages with few­er benefits.

The work­ers aren’t union­ized, but they are sup­port­ed by Arise Chica­go. They marked their strike with a large Arise Chica­go ban­ner stat­ing, Work­er Rights = Immi­grant Rights = Human Rights.”

There was a lot of con­fu­sion going around, and the work­ers were scared that today was going to be their last day,” Shelly Ruz­ic­ka, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for Arise Chica­go, told In These Times. She added, The rea­son they did this togeth­er was so that it would be pro­tect­ed con­cert­ed activ­i­ty,’ try­ing to save their jobs say­ing that this sup­posed announce­ment of fir­ing was unjust firing.”

After the shock of sud­den unem­ploy­ment, Albor said it felt good to fight for jus­tice col­lec­tive­ly. Dur­ing the demon­stra­tion, Head­ly called the police, which delayed strik­ers’ abil­i­ty to access their work­place, accord­ing to Albor. Albor said that when the police allowed them to make an uncon­di­tion­al return to work, they were locked out, a com­mon prac­tice in labor dis­putes. Co-direc­tor of the Nation­al Legal Advo­ca­cy Net­work Chris Williams, who is serv­ing as the work­ers’ legal rep­re­sen­ta­tive, cor­rob­o­rat­ed Albor’s ver­sion of events.

It’s frus­trat­ing because we want answers,” Albor said. And they’re not will­ing to give us any answers or speak with us and they closed the door.”

Williams filed a com­plaint with the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board (NLRB), argu­ing that the work­ers’ non-eco­nom­ic strike about dis­crim­i­na­tion and unfair treat­ment is pro­tect­ed under the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act (NLRA), the law gov­ern­ing pri­vate sec­tor employ­ees’ col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights. He said this sit­u­a­tion is a pret­ty clear-cut vio­la­tion” of NLRA Sec­tion 8(a)(1) pro­hibit­ing inter­fer­ence with the right to orga­nize and Sec­tion 8(a)(3) con­cern­ing adverse actions like a lock­out. He said it usu­al­ly takes a few weeks to hear back from the NLRB about inter­view­ing affect­ed work­ers, but he is opti­mistic based on exist­ing precedent.

The Fight for $15 reg­u­lar­ly holds short-term strikes on non-eco­nom­ic issues and [strik­ers] go back to work uncon­di­tion­al­ly,” he said. The employ­er is not allowed to ter­mi­nate peo­ple on that basis and they did in this case.”

While Albor hopes to get his job at Head­ly back, he’s already think­ing about his future and the strug­gle to find a posi­tion with a sim­i­lar salary and ben­e­fits. He and his wife had a baby four months ago and they own a home with a mortgage.

They could at least pay us some mon­ey so we can sup­port our­selves in the mean­time until we find a new job,” he said. Right now, we don’t have mon­ey because they did­n’t give us our last pay­check and we still got to pay rent because bills won’t wait.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by many strik­ing Head­ly employ­ees, some of whom have been with the com­pa­ny for over 20 years. Quot­ed in the Arise Chica­go press release, work­er Genaro Gar­cia said, We have fam­i­lies to feed, and if we’re fired, now we’ll be short on funds and unable to sup­port our fam­i­lies. We are demand­ing that the com­pa­ny keep us employed or min­i­mal­ly give us more notice in order to be able to look for new jobs. It’s not easy to find work.”

With both the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go grad­u­ate work­ers and the Chica­go Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra on strike, Ruz­ic­ka of Arise Chica­go is hope­ful about the pow­er of orga­nized labor. When work­ers take bold action, you can win,” she said. We like to say when you strike, you win.”

She said an impor­tant les­son of Friday’s strike is even with­out the back­ing of a union, employ­ees can still work togeth­er to advance their rights.

We know a major­i­ty of work­ers in this coun­try don’t have a union,” she said. It’s very impor­tant that work­ers know even if you don’t have a union you can still take col­lec­tive action and you are pro­tect­ed. Bet­ter yet, orga­nize and get union.”

Han­nah Steinkopf-Frank is a Chica­go-based free­lance writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Her work has appeared in the Chica­go Tri­bune, Atlas Obscu­ra, Bitch Media, the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review, JSTOR Dai­ly and Paper Mag­a­zine, among others.
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