Former Republic workers welcome Vice President Biden to window factory

CHICAGO – Union members with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) Local 1110 and former employees of the Republic Windows and Doors here welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to their factory April 27. Biden toured the factory, which is in the process of being reopened under the new ownership of California-based Serious Materials in response to increased demand for energy-saving building products.

Biden’s visit highlighted President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is aimed at creating jobs and building a 21st century economy in Chicago and across the nation.

“This is a story about how we inspire a better tomorrow,” Biden said to reporters at the north side factory. “What I have seen here today at Serious Materials Chicago inspires me and brings to life the real impact the Recovery Act is already having, just in the short time since our work began,” he said.

“Everywhere I go, I am hearing stories just like this one – stories of hard workers filling good jobs, our $8 billion investments in weatherization and energy programs re-opening doors and our tax credits creating new demand for energy-saving materials. This is the story of our new economy – and this is the story of the Recovery Act,” Biden added.

In December 2008 Republic owners gave over 260 workers at the factory a three-day notice before closing operations. Republic refused to negotiate with the workers and their union. Republic said they closed shop because it’s main creditor, Bank of America, had cut off financing having just received a $25 billion bailout package from the federal government. Apparently Bank of America decided not to use some of that money to keep manufacturing enterprises going at Republic, leaving workers out in the cold. Republic declared bankruptcy, shut down and moved to Iowa where they hired non-union workers at a cheaper wage.

The workers and their UE local took charge of the situation and led a very successful and peaceful occupation of their factory that drew national and international attention including support from then President-elect Obama. The six-day sit-in led to hours of intense negotiations, and Republic’s management, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase agreed on a $1.75 million settlement with the workers and their union. Each worker was promised eight weeks salary, all accrued vacation pay and two months paid health care.

In February 2009, Serious Materials acquired the assets of the factory, and in early March – just days after the Recovery Act was signed into law – the company announced its intention to reopen the plant and meet the demand under the act. The new owners also reached an agreement with UE Local 1110 to recognize the union and to rehire all former Republic workers at their former rate of pay.

In the weeks since acquiring the factory, Serious Materials has already begun rehiring former workers and is now installing new equipment for the manufacturing of super-insulating windows that lower heating and cooling costs and improve energy efficiency.

A small crew has been working at the plant preparing to get it back in full production.

“We look forward to getting all our members rehired and working at Serious Materials to create green jobs at living wages,” said Armando Robles in a recent press release. Robles is a maintenance worker there and president of UE Local 1110.

UE Local 1110 Vice-President Melvin Maclin said, “We are glad to see that we have the continuing support of the White House.” He noted, “This would not have been possible without the hard work we have done as a union, and the support of our allies.”

Carl Rosen, President of UE Western Region said, “The former Republic Windows and Doors shows that simply relying on market forces and unregulated banks and corporations cannot provide an economy that works for the American people.”

Rosen continued, “We hope that the Obama administration and Congress continue to take the steps that are needed to ensure that everyone in our country who wants to work has a steady, decently-paid job that they can go to every day.”

At the factory Biden was joined by Mayor Richard Daley, Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, U.S. Reps. Mike Quigley and Debbie Halverson. Democratic Illinois U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris also attended.

Serious Materials is a leading producer of energy efficient windows and other environmental products. The federal stimulus package contains $16 billion for retrofitting existing homes with the type of windows produced by the company, potentially creating a huge market and thousands of jobs.

Under the $787 billion stimulus package, $8 billion is available for state and local weatherization and energy efficiency efforts through the Department of Energy – $5 billion through the Weatherization Assistance Program and another $3 billion for the state Energy Program.