Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chicago Plant Sit-In A Teach-In For Business, Labor

Among the lessons of the sit-in at the Chicago window and door company: business and finance can do the right thing, as shown in this fine piece in The New York Times.

Blogger Rick Esenberg had earlier expressed his misgivings about Bank of America being pressured to pony up additional lending.

I was not surprised by my old WMCS-AM radio talk show pal's discomfort over how the Chicago sit-in played out. For conservatives, a victory for organized labor makes the needles jump on their political Richter scales, suggesting that this Obama "yes we can" movement is really the start of something big.

But back to the Chicago sit-in: we know now through the Times that the Bank and company management had been communicating about the plant closure months before its announcement, and that a deal to end the sit-in nearly fell through because the plant owner wanted a piece of a fresh Bank loan to cover his luxury car leases and tens of thousands in his salary, too.

Key graphs from the Times story about business, legal and moral expectations, obligations and actions:

"Bank officials said it was not their responsibility as lenders to ensure that the company made these payments. They said later that they had been discussing closing the plant with the company as far back as July, giving it plenty of time to fulfill its obligations to its workers.

"Nevertheless, union officials argued that Bank of America had received billions of taxpayer dollars in the recent federal bailout, meant to free up credit to companies like Republic.

“'We never made the argument you have a legal responsibility,” said [US Rep. Luis] Gutierrez, who described bank officials as willing to be helpful almost immediately. “We said, ‘Will you make a corporate responsibility decision?’ ”

As I said in a comment on Rick's posting, I think the Bank cut its PR losses and won a few points by helping guarantee workers' pay and benefits. The Bank made a choice: businesses constantly weigh the public and political ramifications of their actions, and in this case, the Bank did the right thing by the workers and for its corporate image and community standing, too.

And in the end, the company came up with money to help cover some of the workers' pay and benefits owed, too.

Win-win-win, as they say.

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