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Former Republic Windows Employees Start Their Own Factory

Republic Windows was the scene of a nationally covered labor sit-in in 2008. (CBS)

Republic Windows was the scene of a nationally covered labor sit-in in 2008. (CBS)

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(CBS) — Eighteen of the workers who staged a sit-in strike when Republic Windows & Doors suddenly ceased operations at its Goose Island plant in late 2008 are back in business as a worker-run cooperative.

It’s been a tough road.

Then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pledged his support to the Republic worker during a visit to the sit-in on Dec. 8, 2008, only to be arrested the next day.

The firm that took over the Republic factory, Serious Materials, got out of the window business last year.  Now, the workers own what’s known as the New Era Windows Cooperative.

New Era was nurtured by Republic’s union, the United Electrical Workers  and is financed by a group called The Working World that specializes in worker-run coops.

Its president, Brendan Martin, said he believes New Era is a good investment.

“We have a good story of workers saving their jobs we also have the benefit of very low overhead,” he said.  “We don’t have hungry investors waiting to get their money out immediately. We don’t have a bank crashing on the door because they want to get payments in month one.”

They cherry-picked the best of Republic’s equipment, which is now set up at the old Campbell Soup factory at 2600 W. 35th St.

The worker-owners are all former Republic employees, such as Ricky Maclin. He said they have a handful of orders and believe their timing is good.

“Unlike our competitors, we don’t have the CEOs and COOs and all of those ‘Os’ that you have to pay big bonuses to,” he said.  “So we’re able to transfer that savings down to our customers.”

Union organizer Leah Fried said UE has tried to help New Era get off the ground by spreading the word about the coop.  Did she ever believe she would turn commercial spokesperson?

“No!  But these guys have inspired me,” she said. “I really want them to be able to succeed.  I really think anyone who works with them is really going to enjoy the process.”