Thursday, May 16, 2013

Determined Chicago Window Builders Defy All Odds

Seventeen employees of a Chicago window manufacturing facility forced out of work not once, but twice, by plant closures are defying the odds and forming a not for profit co-operative to keep their equipment humming and preserve their jobs. The 17 were employed at what was, in 2008, Republic Windows and Doors. Republic abruptly shut down the factory in December, 2008, laying off 270 workers. After a union organized six day sit in protesting the plant closure, the workers settled with the bankruptcy creditors committee for checks amounting to between $2,000 and $8,000. A few months later, California based Serious Energy purchased the factory from the bankruptcy estate, and promised to hire back Republic's laid off work force.

Serious managed to bring back as many as 70 of the former Republic workers, but by May, 2012, Serious shuttered the plant for a second time. Now, with 70 employee-owners who each invested $1,000.00, New Era Windows Cooperative has leased factory space in a different building, moved Republic's machinery and tools into the new space, and set up a $665,000.00 line of credit from New York based non-profit foundation The Working World, is back in operation. 

The Working World co-founder Brendan Martin says of New Era Windows, "If this is successful, it could suggest a new path forward for our post-industrial economy, and certainly as a non-profit, we'll be trying to replicate this model." Initially, New Era does not expect to compete with giant, high volume producers of low cost windows for new construction. Rather it expects to participate significantly in the larger market segment for remodeling and replacement windows. Only time will tell if the ingenuity and courage of these 70 tough, persistent window makers can compete successfully where big corporations could not.

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