Members of the Chicago-area Hispanic community are sending a loud and clear message to Bank of America officials: stop the unjust attacks on Illinois' third largest minority-owned business that have placed more than 1,400 jobs in jeopardy.
Bank of America has taken extreme and unprecedented measures to intimidate and put the Hillside- and Downers Grove- based direct mail and financial marketing company out of business, which would result in 1,400 lost jobs, nearly 1,000 of which are held by Hispanics.
VMark workers as well as elected and business officials and community activists are asking BOA to serve the very taxpayers who helped bail out the banking giant by working with the company to resolve the matter and ensure the employment of thousands of local residents and the economic health of the community.
"This is simply unacceptable," said State Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (4th District), who represents the district where the Hillside facility is located. "I'm not going to stand by and watch Bank of America victimize minority communities. These hard-working employees and their families are being punished for failed corporate boardroom policies."
Some of VMark's owners, who are the minority shareholders in the company, defaulted years ago on $39 million in loan guarantees unrelated to the company. But while the owners have sought to fulfill all of their obligations during the past year, BOA has curiously refused their offers and is now leveraging that debt to put the company out of business. Meanwhile, VMark is currently pursuing other legal avenues to remain in business and retain jobs.
"We're here to show Bank of America that we're not going to let them ruin a successful business that serves as a lifeline to thousands of local Chicago and suburban families," said State Sen. Martin Sandoval (12th District), whose district is home to many VMark employees. "We cannot let the big corporate banks turn their backs on a successful company and the Hispanic community when working families are struggling to make ends meet."
VMark supporters noted that the issue comes on the heels of the U.S. Justice Department's recent order that Bank of America pay $335 million to settle claims that its subsidiary Countrywide discriminated against minority borrowers. It was charged with hiking interest rates and fees for more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who qualified for lower rates. The fees and interest rates were higher than those of non-Hispanic white borrowers.
Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, whose 16th District includes VMark's Hillside facility, was hopeful the two sides could work something out to retain the jobs.
"These workers serve on the front lines and help drive growth of the company and the region," Tobolski said. "Through no fault of their own, they stand to lose their jobs and benefits, which impact families and the overall economic health of Cook County. We need to do all we can to create a business friendly environment in the county to not only retain existing jobs but attract new ones and spur economic growth."
VMark has been a valued member of the corporate and Hispanic community since 1974, when it started as a magazine subscription service. Since that time, VMark has expanded to include eight separate companies that service a diverse client base.
"VMark is an anchor of the Hispanic community and a true American success story, growing and thriving as a small business that contributes to the overall financial health of the Chicago area," said Chicago Ald. George A. Cardenas (12th Ward). "Bank of America needs to resolve this matter so VMark can continue to operate and families can keep their jobs and survive."
Nilda Esparza, Executive Director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, noted that VMark plays a vital role in the Hispanic community.
"Minority owned-businesses are among the fastest growing segment of new business and job creation among small businesses," Esparza said. "Companies like VMark create jobs and opportunities in the Latino Community. As a fellow minority group, we stand with VMark and their employees in the hopes they are able to reach an amicable resolution that allows them to continue to prosper and generate jobs in Illinois."
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