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Portside Labor

   
 

 

Steve Schmadeke
December 6, 2013
Chicago Tribune
 
Five years ago the workers at Republic Windows sat-in to demand the boss pay them their vacation and severance pay. Today, the former owner of Republic Windows was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing the workers money. Since then, the workers, members of the United Electrical Workers Union, have formed a workers owned co-op, New Era Windows.
 
 

Republic Window and Doors CEO Richard Gillman leaves Cook County Jail in 2009, Terrence Antonio James, September 25, 2009,
 
 

Five years to the day after a sit-in by workers at an abruptly shuttered Chicago factory drew national attention, its former CEO pleaded guilty today to one count of theft for looting Republic Windows & Doors and was promptly sentenced to 4 years in prison.

The guilty plea by Richard Gillman, 60, came a month after he turned down a similar deal from Cook County prosecutors. He was also fined $100,000 by Judge Domenica Stephenson at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

Republic Windows became a national symbol in late 2008 after some of the more than 200 union workers staged a six-day sit-in over vacation and severance pay owed to them after the sudden closing of the Goose Island factory.

Gillman admitted stealing more than $500,000 from the business and was immediately taken into custody after the sentence was imposed. He could end up serving about 2 years in prison with good behavior.

Gillman turned toward former Republic Windows workers in the courtroom as he apologized for his wrongdoing before he was sentenced.

“First of all I’d like to just look at the folks who are here,” he said as he turned away from the judge to the workers sitting in a jury box. “First…I’m sorry and I really genuinely mean that.”

“Somehow some of the facts got misconstrued, but there was never any harm intended for any of you,” he said. “Now it’s time to move on and build new bridges, and that’s what I’m doing.”

“See ya,” one of the former workers said aloud as Gillman was taken into custody and led from the courtroom.

Ricky Maclin, a former Republic Windows worker who attended today’s court hearing, said he was ecstatic to see “justice being served.”

“He’s not the only one who has done this,” said Maclin, who worked for the company for eight years. “However he’s one of the few that’s been convicted of his crime and that’s a good thing.”

But he didn’t buy Gillman’s apology.

“I was really taken aback by that because he said that he never meant us harm,” Maclin said. “However, five years ago I didn’t get that feeling as I stood there in the plant not knowing which way me and my family was going. I did not get the feeling that he did not mean me harm.”

“Just knowing that he’s going to be in prison tonight, I will sleep better,” he said.

 

In 2008, the boss decided to close our windows factory on Goose Island and fire everyone. In 2012, we decided to buy the factory for ourselves and fire the boss. We now own the plant together and run it democratically. This is our story.

In 2008, after many decades of operation, Republic Windows and Doors went bankrupt and was shut down. This seemed odd as the windows business appeared profitable. Meanwhile, members of the family business opened new windows factories in Chicago, hiring workers through temp agencies. They were also investigated by authorities over irregularities in their bankruptcy and were sued by banks over outstanding debts. It seemed the reason workers were losing their jobs might not be because they weren't doing profitable work.

When the announcement to close the plant was made, the workers were told that their jobs would be terminated immediately, and that they would not be given their contractually obligated backpay or severance. While workers were being fired, banks were being bailed out for having taken on too much risk in the pursuit of profits. The workers decided to occupy the factory in protest, and the community came out in extraordinary numbers to support them. See the Michael Moore Short about it.

The workers and the community won enough of this struggle to get the money that was owed to them. A new green construction company, Serious Energy, took control of the factory and partially reopened it. Things seemed to have turned around.

Unfortunately, Serious Energy's business plan, which only involved the windows factory in a tertiary role, never functioned, and the company had to severely cut back on its operations, including closing the factory. Once again, the workers, despite their profitable work, found themselves being sacrificed in a financial game they did not control.

Everyone decided enough was enough. If we want to keep quality manufacturing jobs in our communities, perhaps we should put in charge those who have the most at stake in keeping those jobs — the workers. The plan to start a new worker owned cooperative business began.

The workers called in help in the form of the United Electrical Workers Union, whom had been with them since the beginning, The Working World, which had worked with dozens of worker controlled factories in Latin America, and the Center for Workplace Democracy, a new organization in Chicago dedicated to supporting worker control.

With tremendous support from the community, The Working World raised the investment needed for the workers to buy their factory. Unfortunately, the workers weren't being given a place at the negotiating table, and even that right had to be fought for as workers marched in front of investment banks and signatures poured in to support the workers. Finally, the workers were allowed in, and a deal was struck to allow the workers to buy what they needed to run their own factory.

Today, we are putting that new cooperative business together, and we have decided to call it New Era, as we hope it will be an inspiration for how future jobs can be created in America. Everyone can participate in building the economy we all want, and no one should be treated as temporary or just raw material for someone else's business.

We have built the highest quality windows ever made in Chicago, ones that are soundproof and extremely energy efficient, meaning they are both green and save money. Our windows will be the best on the market at prices no one can beat.

Sales aim to begin early 2013. We are striving to support our community, to keep quality jobs in America, and make our economy stronger. Please support us and check out our windows. We know you'll love them, and please recommend them to a friend if you do.

If we can work together, as we are proving we can, we strongly believe the future could be brighter than ever.

 

 
 
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