Factory employees start a new company in an effort to keep their jobs
Imaging, for a moment, that you arrived at work one day and your employer told everyone you (and everyone else on staff) that you were all laid off, and the business was closing.
That's exactly what happened in December 2008 to the 270 people employed by Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. After a six-day sit-in, organized by the union representing the employees, the company settled and gave the workers severance pay, along with other concessions.
The following year, some of those 270 factory employees got a second chance when a California-based company, Serious Energy, bought the plant and hired back some of the workers. Unfortunately, Serious Energy could only afford to bring on about 70 workers before it too announced layoffs and eventually closed its doors.
The workers locked themselves in the cafeteria of the plant, but this demonstration didn't have as much of an impact as the previous. The company agreed to keep the factory open 90 more days, but after that, it was gone.
Since Serious Energy closed its Chicago plant a year ago, many of those 70 peope remain unemployed. So, they did what many of us probably would not dream of doing - they pooled their money, started a co-op, got a loan, and are in the process of re-opening the factory.
According to the Chicago Tribune:
Each worker put up $1,000 to join the cooperative. The Working World, a New York-based nonprofit that helps fund worker cooperatives, provided a line of credit of up to $665,000 The money was used to buy and move equipment from Chicago's Goose Island neighborhood, where their former employer was located, to a facility the cooperative is renting on the city's Southwest Side.
The co-op, New Era Windows, is, according to the Tribune, an "experiment in empowering manufacturing workers in an era of stagnant wages and eroding benefits."
Like many business owners, the proprietors of New Era Windows are quite conscious of how they spend their limited resources. They have taken to doing cleaning and repairs on their own to save money.
While it may not be realistic for employees at any/all shuttered factories to pick up and re-open the company as a co-op, it certainly makes for an interesting project. We at the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) will keep a close eye
on New Era Windows, to see how the "experiment" turns out.
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