the 260 workers at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago were told
last December that they’d be without jobs in three days and that
they would not be paid what they had coming, they did what any red-blooded
workers would do. They occupied the plant.
now, because they took such an action, the members of UE Local 1110
are waiting to hear if a California company is going to buy the business
and put them back to work. This is because they put themselves on
the line, they gained the attention of the American people and workers
in many other countries.
you said that most workers would not do such a thing, you’d be right.
Most workers are firmly under the impression that they have few
rights on the job and with the way things have been going for the
past 30 years, most workers (except for those who work under union
contracts), are feeling lucky to have jobs, let alone demanding
rights at work.
boss they worked for violated national laws, by failing to give
the workers the 60-day notice of mass layoffs and violated the law
by planning to make his escape to another location. The sit-in got
them eight weeks pay (under the federal WARN act), two months health
benefits, and pay for all accrued, unused vacation, amounting to
a total of $1.75 million.
might be expected, the workers - two-thirds of them Latinos and
one-third African-Americans - experienced a period of considerable
concern. First, there was the legal question of occupying their
workplace. Then, when that seemed to be a smaller issue than they
thought, they worried what they were going to do for a job to their
families, especially a few weeks before the Christmas holiday.
union, United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America
(UE), immediately came to support the workers and with that support
and assistance, they began to discuss their future and to formulate
they had not expected someone to come in and buy out the company
and continue production, it was held out as a possibility. They
also considered a worker-owned enterprise of some kind and they
began raising money.
union established a foundation dedicated to the reopening of the
plant, but the announcement by a “green window business” in California,
Serious Materials, that it intended to buy Republic and reopen it
with its former workers on the production lines may make worker-ownership
week, Serious Materials was said to be in the final stages of working
out an agreement to purchase Republic. “We are all hopeful about
the possibility of Serious reopening our plant,” said Melvin Maclin,
Local 1110 vice president and one of the workers. “This would be
a very happy ending to our struggle.”
have the purchase go smoothly and Serious Materials to put all the
workers back on the job requires the bankruptcy court to act quickly,
and that the creditors, trustee, and the judge to allow the California company to buy the plant soon. Otherwise, according to another
Republic worker and union leader, Armando Robles, Local 1110 president,
the business could evaporate and it will be difficult for Serious
Materials to rehire the workers.
often, the courts and other legal entities fail to account for the
pressures of daily life on working men and women. Even though they
will receive the money they have coming, it’s not easy for wage
workers to last a long time without a job, and no one likes to try
to live on unemployment benefits.
most of the Republic workers want to keep their local union together,
particularly considering what they have accomplished, a majority
are likely to be seeking other work, even as a temporary measure.
State and federal government agencies announce nearly every day
that more jobs are being cut, even from some of the largest and
most successful corporations in the country, so the job prospects
are not good for Republic workers.
while it was a good idea to consider a worker-owned business, it
is difficult, at best, for workers to own - and work for - a company.
In addition to the problems of raising capital to purchase and operate
a plant, there is the problem of management. A worker-owned company
would hire management, and then negotiate with the managers over
wages, benefits, and working conditions. The worker-owners also
must outline principles and set the goals for the new company.
from the start, banks are not so willing to loan money to worker-owned
businesses, worker-owners learn early, because such enterprises
tend to consider the welfare of the owners, rather than concentrate
on profits. Banks reason that, if worker-owners are concentrating
on preserving the company and their jobs, their decisions (and those
of their hired management) might put their ability to pay back their
loans in jeopardy.
one of the reasons that the popular press doesn’t do much reporting
on worker-owned businesses, even though they may be good for the
workers and for their communities. But
there just aren’t that many of them.
of the former Republic plant was good news, then, and there might
be an agreement even this week, but celebrations probably should
be held off until the deal is complete. There once were some 500
workers at Republic, about five years ago, so the company was subject
to cutbacks even when times were better.
can detract from the victory that UE Local 1110 achieved though,
and workers around the world noticed. A Japanese union sent words
of support and a copy of a report on the Republic occupation in
one of their more conservative newspapers.
message of Local 1110’s action was clear to them: If you can do
it, we can do it. Keep up the good work!
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union
organizer. His union work started when he became a local president
of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for
14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work,
he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on
the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and
land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciell.