A Bid for Fairness that Inspired the World:
The Story of UE Members
At Republic Windows
In a story that’s still unfolding, a new chapter in labor history was written by about 260 Chicago workers – members of UE Local 1110 – at Republic Windows and Doors on Friday, December 5, 2008. Only three days earlier, they had been told their plant was closing and that they would be jobless by the weekend.
But instead of heading home to face a bleak holiday season, they did something truly amazing. For the next five days they occupied their plant. The worldwide reaction was simply stunning.
A World of Support
People organized demonstrations in dozens of cities across the country, from New York to San Francisco, from icy Buffalo to sunny Florida. Solidarity messages poured in from around the world. Their common theme was, "We're behind you — and proud of you! Keep up the fight!"
The UE Local 1110 members had no way of knowing how deeply their courageous action would resonate. But it soon became clear that their action articulated the anger and frustration of millions of ordinary people in this worsening economic crisis.
Support poured in ways the Republic Workers never dreamed could happen. Politicians, including U.S. Senators and Representatives, state government officials and even the President of the United States voiced their support for the workers’ demands.
A World of Hope
They inspired people fed up by the excesses of banks, corporations and the powerful who have led us into the worst economic crisis since the 1930s — and then got the government to bail them out with our money.
They gave hope to people who face the prospect of losing jobs, homes, healthcare, retirement, and for many, the hope for their kids to get a good college education.
A Movement to 'Resist Economic Violence'
Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed it well when he said that, like Rosa Parks 50 years ago, the Republic workers stood up for justice by sitting down. "In many ways," said Jackson, their action "is the beginning of a larger movement for mass action to resist economic violence."
When the plant closing announcement was made, they were told that Bank of America, although flush with U.S. Government bailout cash, had refused to extend Republic's line of credit. This meant they would not be paid what the company owed them, and clearly they would not receive the 60-day closing notice (and pay) required under federal law.
Worldwide news coverage and grassroots support meant even more unusual events would unfold. Bank of America came to the negotiating table. UE and state officials worked out a tentative agreement with the bank under which workers would be paid what they were owed and provided with two month’s of health care. The Republic UE members voted enthusiastically to accept the agreement and proudly ended their occupation.
A New Beginning
Then came a phone call. A California company, Serious Materials, was interested in buying the plant. On January 14th, Local 1110 was able to announce that the company was, indeed, ready to purchase the plant. Serious Materials is a manufacturer of energy saving green building products, with a stated mission of reducing greenhouse gases by one billion tons annually.
This chapter of the story is still unfolding. UE Local 1110 members have ratified a new contract, which maintains both their wage levels and seniority. The plant has reopened, with a small group of UE members working to ramp-up the plant’s operations. The goal is to achieve full production and the recall of all their co-workers.
A New Movement?
The UE Local 1110 members in Chicago made an important statement: that it is up to all of us to make sure this moment in time marks a real turning point, when we begin to stand together – again – as working people to demand an economy and government policies that put our needs first.