CHICAGO – Chicago workers in the third day of a sit-in on the floor of their former workplace peered through the windows of a door Sunday, amazed by a mix of supporters, politicians and journalists who packed a foyer outside.
"We never expected this," said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. "We expected to go to jail."
The 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off nationwide as the economy continues to sour. They occupied the plant of their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, after the company abruptly fired them last week.
At a news conference Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama said Republic should follow through on its commitments to its workers.
"The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy," Obama said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered turkeys to the workers, pledging the support of his Chicago-based civil rights group, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"These workers deserve their wages, deserve fair notice, deserve health security," Jackson said. "This may be the beginning of long struggle of worker resistance finally."
Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers union that represents the workers, said the company told the union that Bank of America has canceled its financing.
Bank of America received $25 billion as part of a government bailout. Some workers carried signs Sunday that said: "You got bailed out. We got sold out."
The bank had said in a statement Saturday that it wasn't responsible for Republic's financial obligations to its employees. Republic has not commented on the sit-in.
One of the factory's workers, Silvia Mazon, said in Spanish that she needs the money owed to her for an $1,800 monthly house payment. The 40-year-old from Cicero said she has enough money saved to survive for one month.
"We're making history," she said.
Patrick Tyrrell, 22, of Chicago, visited the workers Saturday and returned the next day with home-cooked beans, rice, chicken and soup. Tyrrell said he felt he wanted to help, in part, because his grandfather was an electrical union member.
"This is an impressive historical event," he said.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, called it the start of a movement. "This story has resonated around the world," she said.