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The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion. JUSTICE McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court: Defendants, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Department) and its Director, Lynn Quigley Doherty, appeal from the order of the circuit court of Macon County reversing on administrative review an award of unemployment benefits to 460 unemployment benefit claimants (claimants) who had participated in a strike against plaintiff Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. (Bridgestone). The 460 claimants who are defendants in this case join in the Department’s argument on appeal. The issues are whether (1) the finding that claimants were entitled to benefits after January 14, 1995, on the basis that the Bridgestone plant in Decatur, Illinois, had resumed substantially normal operations was against the manifest weight of the evidence and (2) the statutory labor dispute disqualification was lifted when the struck employer hired permanent replacement workers during the strike. We reverse the circuit court and reinstate the Director’s decision. On July 12, 1994, the membership of the United Rubber Workers Union Local 713 (the union) went on strike against Bridgestone’s Decatur plant as part of a strike against several Bridgestone plants. The strike ended on May 8, 1995. Claimants were part of the approximately 1,200 striking production employees and applied to the Department for benefits. On September 6, 1994, the Department issued a labor dispute determination concluding that the striking workers were ineligible to receive unemployment benefits pursuant to section 604 of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) because that provision disqualifies an individual from receiving unemployment benefits “for any week *** his total or partial unemployment is due to a stoppage of work which exists because of a labor dispute at the factory, establishment, or other premises at which he is or was last employed.” 820 ILCS 405/604 (West 1994). Subsequent to the September 6, 1994, determination, the Department received information that a large number of striking workers were advised by Bridgestone that they had been permanently replaced. On February 1, 1995, a representative of the Department requested information from Bridgestone as to the current workforce, i.e., of the 1,256 bargaining unit employees, how many had returned to work, how many had been replaced, had any positions been eliminated and, if so, how many. The letter also requested the current work schedule and the extent of the stoppage of work. The purpose of the request was to help the Department make a timely determination as to the eligibility of the claimants to receive benefits. In response to the February 1, 1995, request, Bridgestone, on February 15, 1995, sent a terse response to the Department stating in part:
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