“Whatever the bosses want, we do it. We’d say, ‘Look, this is a better way,’ and they say, ‘No, we say you have to do it this way.’ Even when they make a mistake, they just continue,” Robles explained.
Things are very different today. Employees of what is now called New Era Windows and Doors are also the owners. And their ideas matter. Any of them can propose improvements, and if they can convince a majority of their co-workers, things can change quickly.
“If we make a mistake, we talk to each other and we find a solution,” Robles told me when I visited the factory in late September. “We try to do the best for everyone. We work harder because we’re working for ourselves. But it’s more enjoyable. We work with passion.”
It was a long journey to becoming a worker cooperative, and it was not a journey anyone had planned. In 2008, Republic’s owners closed the factory and laid off the work force without the required 60-days notice. Workers occupied the factory and refused to leave the premises until they were paid what they were owed. The story went nationwide. Pressure from the union, area activists, and even President Obama led to a victory. The workers were paid, and instead of shutting down, the factory was sold to California-based Serious Materials.
The workers kept their jobs, though the experience radicalized them. Some visited Argentina where they learned that other workers facing the same situation had occupied their factories and eventually became worker-owners.
So Robles and his co-workers were prepared when, three years later, Serious Materials announced they would shut down and liquidate the factory. Once again, the workers occupied. With a nationwide petition drive, support from United Electrical Workers, financing from The Working World (an organization that helps establish worker cooperatives), support from the local Occupy movement, and the memory of the previous occupation still fresh in the minds of the Chicago power elite, the protest turned into a buyout.
The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative has been in operation since 2013. It hasn’t been easy, but the worker-owners have learned together how to operate their own business. And then there were the meetings: “It was difficult to make decisions together,” Robles said. “But it’s kind of fun, because at the end of the day it’s for the benefit of everyone.”
Read the full article from Yes! Magazine.