Workers Continue Factory Sit-in Despite Loan Offer

CHICAGO — A sit-in by workers at a factory in Chicago that's come to symbolize the plight of laid-off labor around the nation is continuing despite an offer by the plant's creditor to extend limited loans to the factory.

A resolution seemed nearer Tuesday when Bank of America, which yanked the plant's financing last week, announced it sent a letter to Republic Windows and Doors offering "a limited amount of additional loans" to resolve its employee claims.

But the United Electrical Workers union, which represents the Republic workers, said late Tuesday that no final agreement has been reached and that there are still important details to be worked out before that can happen.

Negotiations are set to resume Wednesday afternoon.

About 200 of the 240 laid-off workers had responded to their three days' notice of the plant closing by staging a sit-in and vowing to stay put until assurances they would get severance and accrued vacation pay.

Lawmakers have criticized Bank of America for cutting off money to the plant after it exhausted its credit line even though the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank itself received $25 billion from the government's financial bailout package.

Word of Bank of America's loan offer came as the bank, union representatives and Republic held talks in Chicago on Tuesday, the fifth day of the sit-in.

Leah Fried, an organizer for the union, said it was too soon to know if the sit-in would end any time soon. Workers would have to vote to end the action after any final agreement.

Workers have remained defiant if surprised that their protest has drawn intense nationwide interest, including expressions of support from President-elect Barack Obama.

"I never thought this would get so big," Ricardo Caceres, a 39-year-old assembly line worker taking part in the sit-in said Tuesday. "I am proud of my brother and sister workers."

Without the severance and vacation pay, Caceres said he and many of his fellow workers risked falling behind on mortgage payments and even losing their homes.

Another worker, 44-year-old Apolinar Cabrera, said he risked even more. His wife is due to deliver their third child around Christmas, but without his Republic job, he said he wouldn't have the health insurance to cover her medical care.

"I'm still feeling angry and sad," Cabrera, who has worked at the plant for 17 years, said Monday. "At the same time, it was time to stand up and fight for my rights."

Fried said most of the workers made no more than around $30,000 a year at the plant, which she said was barely enough to feed and house their families.

"They've had rough times, and that fuels a desire to say, 'Enough! We can't be kicked around anymore,'" she said. "There really is a sense of desperation. They have nothing to lose."

In its Tuesday statement, Bank of America sided at least in part with the disgruntled workers, expressing concern for what it alleged was "Republic's failure to pay their employees the employee claims to which they are legally entitled."

The loan would only be designed to enable Republic to pay laid-off workers, said bank spokeswoman Julie Westermann. There was no question of offering a loan large enough to reopen the factory, she said.

Asked if the bank sympathized with the laid-off workers, Westermann said, "Of course we do." She added that bank officials were ready to begin the loan-approval process if talks concluded with an agreement.

Republic officials did not return messages on Tuesday from The Associated Press.

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