December 9, 2008 / 4:00 AM / 10 years ago

Illinois pressures Bank of America to help workers

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Bank of America will lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and commissions from the state of Illinois if it fails to help laid-off workers occupying a Chicago factory, the governor warned on Monday.

Pedestrians and advertisements can be seen reflected in the windows of a Bank of America branch in New York, October 8, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, visited Republic Windows & Doors where 250 union workers have camped out in shifts since Friday, demanding severance and vacation pay after the family-owned business gave them just three days notice of the plant’s closing.

The parties involved met on Monday and failed to reach a resolution but said they would talk again on Tuesday. The workers said their occupation of the plant would continue.

The company told workers last week that Bank of America had shut off its line of credit and refused to allow further expenditures.

The shuttered factory, a victim of the downturn in residential construction, has come to symbolize the plight of unemployed workers caught in the recession and resentment of the federal bailout of Wall Street banks, while Main Street businesses wither.

Blagojevich said the state would withhold business worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars from Bank of America, consisting of fees, commissions and other payments until it provided help to the workers.

Bank of America, the recipient of $15 billion of federal bailout funds, said in a statement it had “provided the maximum amount of funding we can under the terms of our agreement” with Republic. The bank said it was “reaching out to the management and ownership of the company to see what they can do to help resolve the issue.”

Republic workers demanded to be paid severance equal to 60 days pay plus unused vacation time — citing a federal law that requires companies to give 60 days notice before shutting a facility.

Republic may qualify for an exception to the 60-day notice if the company can show its line of credit was yanked abruptly, creating an unforeseeable circumstance, said James Hendricks, a Chicago attorney with expertise in the area. Workers can pursue the company through lawsuits or arbitration, he said.

Asked about the dispute at a news conference on Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama expressed support for the workers and underscored the sentiments stirred up.

“It’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they’re designed also to get money out the door and to help people on Main Street,” Obama said.

Editing by Bill Trott

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