Monday, December 29, 2008

"Scratching and Surviving" Less Newsworthy Than Politicians at Labor Protests: Scant Media Coverage of Republic Windows Workers After Sit-In

During the recent protests at Republic Windows and Doors, politicians, the media, the company, and union leaders played political football with the laid-off workers. Their advocacy led Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase to pay the wages and benefits that Republic Windows and Doors owed its workers. The company, however, escaped scrutiny by convincing the public that Bank of America unfairly prevented it from paying its employees. Meanwhile, the company's owners moved to Iowa and restarted operations in a cheaper location with nonunionized workers.

Progressives and the Media Have Now Abandoned the Workers
Although progressive advocacy in this situation failed in many respects, perhaps most critically, the Left did not demand that governmental officials strengthen the economic safety net, which the recent economy has strained. Now that the politicians, activists and the workers themselves have vacated the scene, the workers' struggle no longer generates intense political or media attention. Progressives, liberal politicians and the media have now discarded the workers -- just like the bankrupt company did.

Must Strengthen Economic Safety Net Because "Sit-In" Will Not Succeed for Most Workers
But progressive advocacy and media analysis regarding the continued struggles of the laid-off workers could offer more to them and to other distressed workers nationwide than the passionate activity surrounding the sit-in. Contrary to the most enthusiastic progressive arguments, workers across the country will not have many opportunities to replicate the success of the Chicago sit-in.

The Chicago protest succeeded due to a rare confluence of numerous forces: (1) the nation needed to vent anger regarding the bailout and the declining economy, and Bank of America became the obvious target; (2) Bank of America cares about its image and ultimately capitulated to the negative attention, including Governor Blagojevich's decision to ban the bank from doing business with Illinois; (3) the company apparently had powerful political contacts in Chicago who helped keep public criticism on the bank, not the company's illegal actions; (4) local union leaders and the workers themselves had sufficient drive and organization to lobby for justice; and (5) the media found a ratings-generating story and pounced on it.

But in the future banks will respond more swiftly and creatively if companies attempt to shift the blame for their own violations of labor laws. The media will not hold vigils at each imperiled work site; this storyline is now dull. And the involvement of political actors and the stamina of workers will vary with each scenario.

Scattered news accounts have begun to do the necessary work to publicize the broader issues facing workers in the declining economy. Several media outlets, for example, have reported on the problems states are having keeping their unemployment benefits budgets solvent. The increased unemployment filings have depleted their funds, sending them to the federal government for assistance.

Other stories have analyzed the problems that typical workers face when their companies shut down. Although the Chicago workers received unpaid wages due to a rare political opportunity, in the average case, insolvent companies move into bankruptcy, where workers usually do not collect the full amount of money owed to them (if they collect anything at all). Also, many workers do not receive their unpaid wages due to limitations of shut-down legislation.

Where Are They Now?
Some news stories are beginning to detail the struggles of the former employees of Republic Windows and Doors. Here is a snippet from one of those stories:

Workers at Republic Windows beat their bosses to win payouts required by law when their plant shut down. But now, they're facing a reality millions of other Americans share: being unemployed at Christmas.

At Dagaberto Cervantes' home, it's a bittersweet Christmas with few presents under the tree. The former Republic Windows employee received $4,000 in hard-won shutdown benefits, but he doesn't know when he might work again. . . .

After a six day sit-in, the workers won, receiving severance, vacation pay and temporary health care. Still, like so many now, they're jobless. Cervantes is already looking for work. . . .

[But] [u]nemployment in Illinois now stands at 7.3 percent, the highest in 15 years. Since January alone, Illinois has lost 72,000 jobs. . . .
As more workers lose their jobs, perhaps progressives and the media will find their stories as equally (or even more) inspiring as watching self-interested politicians make cameo appearances at a labor sit-in.

[Note: Google services the outside links attached to this post (e.g., Digg, Email this, etc.). Someone hacked Google today, so some of these links take you to spam webpages. I apologize for any inconvenience. Google is on the case!]

Related Readings Around the Web:

What Comes After Factory Workers' Victory for Labor?

WARN Act Falls Short for Job Layoffs

Related Readings on Dissenting Justice:

MADE IN IOWA: Did Company in Chicago Sit-In Illegally Discard Its Workers and Quietly Relocate While Liberals Forced BOA to Pay for the Shady Scheme?

Republic Windows and Doors Received a Bailout from Chicago Before It Bailed Out of Chicago

Laid-Off Republic Windows and Doors Workers: Pawns in Political Football

Factory Closes in Chicago; Workers Invoke Bailout During Protest

What (I Think) Progressives Should Have Done for Workers of Republic Windows and Doors

New Chapter for Republic Windows: Bankruptcy

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