Melvin “Ricky” Maurice Maclin, vice president of UE Local 1110, leader of the historic six-day factory occupation of Republic Windows and Doors by Local 1110 members in December 2008 and founding member of New Era Windows Cooperative, died on May 5, after being diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in early April. He was 61 years old, and died surrounded by family in his Chicago home. The steady stream of visitors was a testament to the impact he had on so many lives and our movement for justice.
“This is a huge loss for me and for our movement,” said his good friend, Local 1110 President Armando Robles. “He leaves a huge hole in our lives. He was a great friend and a brother in struggle.”
Maclin was born in Tennessee and spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm, later moving to Chicago with his parents and sister. He worked for many years in the restaurant industry before getting a job at Republic Windows and Doors in 2002. Workers at the plant organized into UE Local 1110 in 2004 and Ricky became a steward. In 2007 he was elected vice president of the local, and he helped lead the successful worker occupation of Republic in 2008. The sit-in challenged Bank of America to take responsibility after the bank received a $25 billion federal government bailout during that year’s Wall Street crisis, and then cut off credit to the window factory, wiping out jobs.
The UE members’ courageous action received massive national and international media attention, making them heroes, and the occupation ended when they won the back pay to which they were entitled. It also led to the plant reopening under a new owner, Serious Energy, and with the UE contract intact. In early 2009 Maclin participated in the Republic Workers Victory tour, speaking in several cities around the country to encourage other workers to take bold action to defend their rights. He loved to say “If you don’t fight, you’ve already lost, but if you do fight, you can win!”
In 2012 Maclin helped lead a second worker occupation of the window factory, after Serious Energy decided to close the plant with little notice. Out of that occupation came the idea of workers buying the company and starting a worker-owned cooperative, and a commitment by Serious to sell them the equipment they needed to make that happen. Maclin was one of three of the original team that began the process of founding what is now the New Era Windows Cooperative, with assistance from The Working World, a group that helps start worker co-ops.
During the first plant occupation Maclin frequently spoke to the news media on behalf of his fellow workers. Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore’s 2009 documentary about the financial crisis and the injustice of the economic system, highlighted the Republic workers’ action as one of the few stories with a happy ending, and Ricky Maclin is featured. He’s also shown and quoted extensively in Workers’ Republic, Andrew Friend’s excellent documentary film on the occupation, and in UE’s own short video about the Republic struggle produced by Andrew Dinkelaker.
On hearing of Maclin’s passing, UE General President Bruce Klipple said, “Ricky Maclin was amazing. What he and his fellow workers in Local 1110 did is unbelievable, and made a huge contribution to this union, the entire labor movement, and the working people of this country. He was a great union member who will be greatly missed.”
Western Region President Carl Rosen said, “Ricky was one of the most inspirational rank and file leaders I have ever met. He had a knack with coming up with the most perceptive comment for any situation and saying it with a very disarming smile. And he always knew which side he was on. UE and the whole labor movement have lost a great leader.”
Born March 2, 1954, Maclin spent his early years in Haywood County, Tennessee on his grandparent’s farm where they grew cotton and raised cows, chickens and pigs. The home included his mother, stepfather, and younger sister Brenda as well as his grandparents. His Aunt Helen, who is his mother’s sister described Ricky as “a fast learner and very smart. He caught on to anything he wanted to”. While his given name is Melvin Maurice, his mother took to calling him Ricky and the nickname stuck. His cousin May Carolyn Reed said, “Ricky was a real charmer, the family just loved him and we called him pretty Ricky.”
His parents moved to Chicago with Ricky and his sister to Chicago after he finished elementary school. He attended CVS High School in Chicago but after graduation, he became involved in street life and eventually got into trouble. He later turned his life around and became religious. His wife Cynthia Maclin recalls how an elderly woman friend set her up on a blind date with Ricky. “From the moment we met nine years ago, we were inseparable. I will always love him,” she says.
Ricky Maclin is survived by his wife, three step children, fourteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, his sister’s two children, 10 great nieces and nephews, and his cousin Shannon who he considered a little sister. He will be remembered by all who love justice and struggle to build a fair and kinder world.
A wake will be held on Friday May 15 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. at Taylor Funeral Home, 63 E 79th Street, Chicago. The funeral service will follow, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Carter Temple CME Church, 7841 S Wabash Ave, Chicago. Viewing will take place Thursday May 14 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Taylor Funeral Home.