Good Works Chicago: Worker Cooperatives

Camille Smith |

Brendan Martin of The Working World visited on Good Works Chicago this week. He shared with IWJ's Kim Bobo the story of New Era Windows, the worker-owned cooperative he’s working with here in Chicago area.

The history of New Era begins with the 2008 financial crisis. The nearby Chicago window factory joined thousands of businesses who faced challenges after the crisis. The factory closed without paying its workers all they were owed, and owners began moving out equipment. The workers occupied the factory and demanded they were paid their wages. This action generated the attention of the worker justice community around the country. Their devotion to creating change started them down the path of what New Era Windows is today.

The factory went through several different owners until the workers decided to buy out the company on their own. This happened because workers believed they could manage their own company. There are now 16 worker-owners at New Era Windows, and the company is in its first full year of production.

Brendan shared that though worker-owned cooperatives aren’t common in the United States, they are more possible than people think. Worker-owned cooperatives can start up from a group of workers on their own or come from an existing business. Worker-owned cooperatives aren’t common because workers don’t often see them as a possibility. Too often, workers accept workplaces as static rather than trying to change them. In the long run, when workers do start owning their own work, they find they are paid better. In order to start this transition, workers need to be educated about business and change their mental shift to ownership. When workers genuinely feel they own the company they tend to succeed. Brendan compared it to tending your own garden; you get to see the fruits of your own labor.

Anyone who wants to support worker-owned co-ops should believe and them and search locally to support them. Learn more about worker-owned co-ops and consider buying your windows from New Era.

If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.