Workers occupy factory in Chicago

Workers occupy factory in Chicago

News, Twitter and on-the-ground updates from the occupation of Serious Materials in Chicago.

Workers with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America have occupied Serious Materials (formerly Republic Window & Door) in Chicago. The company had said it is closing operations at its Chicago plant due to "ongoing economic challenges in construction and building products, collapse in demand for window products, difficulty in obtaining favorable lease terms, high leasing and utility costs and taxes, and a range of other factors unrelated to labor costs[...]"

In response, the union countered that it wanted time to attempt to find a new buyer or figure out if they could raise the money themselves to purchase the factory and keep it running, possibly as a cooperative. Around 65 workers are occupying the building right now to back up that demand.

In 2008, UE workers occupied the same factory, then operated by Republic Window & Door, in protest of Republic's violation of federal labor law not giving the workers 60 days notice prior to the announcement of closure. The six day occupation ended in a settlement that amounted to $1.75 million.

Updates to follow in the comment section.

Twitter hashtag: #seriousoccupation

Republic Windows, redux? Workers occupy Goose Island plant
http://trib.in/xnaJ0O

UE's Facebook page
http://on.fb.me/ylKRui

Video by KenzoShibata

Occupy Chicago livestream
http://ustre.am/DAYt

Comments

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 01:43

From someone I know on the ground right now

Quote:
Just did a mini press conference. They were told this was the last day of production so they countered to hq that they needed time to see if they can find a buyer or even if the workers could by it. They occupied the factory to backup their demand. They are now negotiating with hq on the phone from inside

and

Quote:
Currently chanting: one- we are the workers two - we are united, three - this occupation is not leaving. Nurses kicking off and getting rowdy
Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 01:49

UE launches second plant occupation...
http://pilsenprole.blogspot.com/2012/02/ue-launches-second-plant-occupation.html

Quote:
UE workers are again occupying at 1333 N Hickory "Serious Materials" formerly "Republic Window and Door". According to former UE officer and journalist Mike Elk, they are demanding that rather than laying off workers the factory be sold to a company that can keep people on, or be turned over to the workers as a cooperative. Need people to turn out to support them NOW!
Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 01:58

Press release from UE

Quote:
United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America
http://www.ueunion.org/

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- BREAKING NEWS DEVELOPMENT

50 Workers Occupying Former Republic Windows Factory
Workers Vow to Stay to Fight for Their Jobs and Win Justice

WHAT: 50 Chicago Workers Occupying Factory
WHERE: Serious Energy, 1333 N. Hickory (1 block north of Division, 3 blocks west of Halsted)
WHO: Members of UE Local 1110 (United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America http://www.ueunion.org
WHEN: Currently / As Long as It Take
WHY: To Save Jobs, Win Justice

CHICAGO--50 workers are staging an occupation of Serious Materials, the same Goose Island factory made famous in 2008 (http://mhpbooks.com/books/revolt-on-goose-island) when it was owned by Republic Windows and Doors and occupied by workers who were left hanging when the company's owners closed down without informing the workers or giving them their final paychecks.

In 2008, workers at Republic Windows and Doors occupied their factory for six days and won $1.75 million in wages and benefits owed to them from Bank of America. In 2009 the factory was purchased by Serious Energy, a green window company. This morning (Thursday, February 23, 2012), Serious Energy informed the workers that their window factory in Chicago would close effective today. The company said there is no longer manufacturing taking place and they plan to dismantle production immediately.

Workers demanded a chance to save these jobs and find a buyer or purchase the factory themselves and start a worker-run enterprise. Serious Energy refused. That same day workers voted to once again occupy their factory to win justice and jobs. While negotiations between the workers of UE Local 1110 and Serious Energy continue, workers have vowed to occupy just as they did in 2008.

Follow the occupation on Twitter at #SeriousOccupation

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 02:10


Vicente Rangel, Armando Robles, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110 President; and Leah Fried, were among the workers and union representatives banding together at the company called Serious Materials Inc., 1333 North Hickory Avenue in Chicago on Thursday, February 23, 2012, amid reports that the company was going out of business. About 65 workers gathered inside to figure out how to proceed.

Schwarz
Feb 24 2012 02:19

deja vu! thanks so much for the updates

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 02:19

Text from someone on the ground...

Quote:
"How long will you occupy?
"As long as it takes"

Some of the crowd outside

UE rep Leah Fried: "We'll be here as long as it takes. We've done it once, we'll do it again."

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 02:34

Pizzas delivered to #seriousoccupation

Police saying no to pizza delivery

Warehouse Workers For Justice outside

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 02:45

Workers inside the plant

Supporters outside

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 03:26

Linked the first video I've seen come out so far and the Occupy Chicago livestream in the body of the article

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 03:36

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 05:08

Sounds like Occupy Chicago has shown up with tents and they plan to camp outside of the factory

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 07:28

Apparently a settlement was reached and workers are leaving the factory
http://www.twitvid.com/XQB5L

Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 10:35

Statement from UE:

Quote:
After being told by local management this morning that the Serious Energy window factory would close effective immediately, workers at the former Republic Windows and Doors plant had one demand: time to save these jobs by finding a buyer for the business. Local management refused and in response, workers voted to occupy for the second time with their union the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, UE. In 2008 UE members successfully occupied their factory and won $1.75 million in wages and benefits owed to them from Bank of America.

After the occupation began, Serious Energy's corporate leaders stepped in, declared that the local management should not have acted in this manner, and immediately began talks to resolve the situation responsibly. A deal has now been struck to try and save the jobs. Serious Energy has agreed to keep the plant operational and people on the job for another 90 days while the union workers and the company work together to find a way to keep the plant open with new ownership because the plant will no longer be part of Serious Energy's business plan. After 9 hours the occupation has ended with a hopeful workforce.

"We started the morning with the plant closing and ended the day with work and a chance to save our jobs." said Armando Robles, President of UE Local 1110, "We are committed to finding a new buyer for the plant or if we can, buy the place ourselves and run it. Either way, we are hopeful".

Statement from company:

Quote:
Serious Energy and UE (United Electrical Workers Union) Local 1110 have reached an agreement to resolve yesterdays’ situation at the Chicago-based window facility. Members of the press received incomplete and incorrect information that Serious Energy would be closing the facility immediately. The Chicago plant remains open at this time, and the parties are working together to find a new owner if possible and explore all other options. Both UE and Serious Energy apologize for any resulting confusion.
Juan Conatz
Feb 24 2012 11:29

Ok, gotta hit the skreets and try and find some shitty factory work lol, someone take over...

Steven.
Feb 24 2012 11:57

Cheers for all the updates!

Chilli Sauce
Feb 24 2012 18:52

So do we know if the workers inside sort of expected this might happen (my understanding is that's what happened in 2008 and local officials were instrumental in arranging the occupation) or was it a spontaneous reaction to the threat of being shut down?

Nate
Feb 24 2012 19:46

I don't think we know. My hunch is that they had a sense that it would happen. The company hadn't rehired everyone like they said the would, so it was clear they were shady, and I can't imagine that the Republic Windows occupation is the kind of thing that a local would do and then be like "well we're never going to consider doing that ever again."

Sort of an aside - the local president worked at the plant. I'm not sure if being local president there involves paid time off the floor or not but I know it's not full-time. (One of the AFSCME locals where I work is the same way.) And the UE is tiny in terms of staff and full-time officials. When I lived in Chicago I think they had two or at most four staff organizers for the area, so they rely a lot on volunteers. So a unions vs workers thing is muddier here I think - even though it was planned and orchestrated by the officialdom the first time around. I think that this is part of why UE officials could pull that off, because of the way the UE is set up. A UE organizer in Chicago told me once that UE likes to have one local per facility in part because doing so creates opportunities for leadership development and building more active participation than larger and more impersonal locals.

Juan Conatz
Feb 25 2012 20:23

From Labor Notes

Quote:
UE Occupies Chicago Window Plant Again, and Wins Reprieve

Members of the United Electrical Workers won another reprieve for a Chicago window factory, re-occupying the plant they famously held in 2008.

UE Local 1110 members took over the Serious Materials plant yesterday after being told by local management that the factory would close immediately.

When they were confronted with the same news in 2008, workers voted unanimously to occupy their workplace, guarding the machines at the former Republic Windows and Doors for six days until the major creditor, Bank of America, released $1.75 million in wages and benefits owed the workers.

Republic sold the plant to Serious and workers celebrated as the first sit-down strike in years won a favorable settlement in the teeth of the great recession.

This week’s plant closing came with no warning. The union got a call from the boss that he wanted a meeting, but he wouldn’t say why. Officers and UE staff were summoned to the offices of the notorious union-busting law firm Seyfarth and Shaw at 9 a.m. yesterday.

There executives said they would close the plant, effective immediately. Workers would be put on leave while management dismantled the window-making machinery and shipped it to the company’s other plants in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Workers would be paid what they were owed under the WARN Act, which requires employers to provide notice 60 days ahead of plant closings and mass layoffs. (The penalty for violations is up to two months of pay and benefits.)

But the provisions typically only apply to businesses that would lay off 50 or more.

Illinois has a stronger law, which requires notice when 25 or more full-time employees will lose their jobs, and gives the director of the state labor department the right to investigate the company’s books.

Management provided nothing in writing to back up its promises.

Union officers—Armando Robles, Ricky Maclin, and Vicente Rangel—and staffers spent three hours arguing with management that the closure was unacceptable. Serious had a legal and moral obligation to do more to try to save the jobs, they said.

“We wanted to find a buyer,” said UE rep Leah Fried, “but they were not interested. They said it was not an option.”

Meanwhile, the Serious workers were building windows inside the plant.

February is not a big time for demand for windows, and their numbers were down to 38 after a recent layoff. Only 75 of the original 240 workers had ever been called back after Serious bought the plant from Republic.
All Out
President Robles and Fried left the meeting with management Thursday and began calling laid-off workers, asking them to come to the plant. At 2 p.m., the end of the shift, 50 workers met to discuss their options.

Robles presented them soberly: Do nothing, or fight—stay and occupy the plant again. Without much hullabaloo, matter-of-factly, the members voted unanimously to occupy.

They had no food, no sleeping bags. Workers and leaders immediately started to phone fellow workers, allies, and the media. They called the local alderman and asked others to alert the mayor’s office. Occupy Chicago came with tacos. Stand Up Chicago arrived.

Workers from other UE locals, including recently organized railroad van drivers, were there. Republic workers who’d never been called back to Serious but who still came to union meetings were there. The crowd inside grew to 65 and outside to 100.

UE regional president Carl Rosen called Serious’s CEO Kevin Surace at headquarters in California and asked, “Do you really want to go this route? If it comes to it, we’ll be dragged out and arrested.”

Fried wondered if Serious understood who they were dealing with. “These are people who won’t take this lightly,” she said. “They take this personally. They need jobs. And the political climate has changed. Now there’s a whole Occupy movement that was inspired by us. We’re sort of ground zero of Occupy.”

Meanwhile, local management called the police. A half dozen cops informed the workers that they had five minutes to decide whether to leave peacefully or get arrested.

They didn’t make good on the threat, but they refused to let the pizzas provided by Stand Up Chicago inside until a local pastor intervened, as local TV news cameras whirred. “Let the workers eat!” chanted the crowd.

The cops backed off but wouldn’t let anyone leave and then go back inside.

By 5 p.m. a crowd had gathered outside. Occupy Chicago started to raise tents, showing how a culture to prepare and stick it out has developed since the last occupation, Fried said. The cold rain started to freeze.

Inside, workers played dominoes and tried to watch the coverage on an old, snowy TV. They had plenty of donated food—enough to share with their supporters outside.

Negotiations shifted when corporate decision makers got on the phone. Management in California took over, apparently deciding they didn’t want a big showdown.

At 1 a.m., a tentative agreement was reached that met all of the workers’ concerns. The plant will remain open, making windows, for 90 days. That’s in writing.

Serious is committed to finding new ownership. Local union leaders are also interested in the possibility of a worker-run enterprise and are talking with consultants who specialize in converting factories to co-ops.

Serious said it had never been able to get a foothold in Chicago and Midwest markets. Workers for years had offered help and suggestions, to no avail.

“We started the morning with the plant closing and ended the day with work and a chance to save our jobs,” said Robles. “We are committed to finding a new buyer for the plant or if we can, buy the place ourselves and run it. Either way, we are hopeful.”