Southside Together Organizing for Power
Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle December 10, 2018:
Southside Together Organizing for Power - STOP. Chicago Teachers Union UE SEIU Healthcare IL & IN and others digging into the legacy and history of labor and community militancy since the historic Republic Windows and Doors occupation 10 years ago. — attending Republic Windows: The sit-in that launched a decade of action with Alex Han, Leah Fried, Armando Robles, Mark Meinster and Micah Uetricht at In These Times.
In December 2008, organizer Leah Fried and local union president Armando Robles led 240 workers to illegally occupy their Chicago workplace after their employer, Republic Windows and Doors, abruptly told them that it was shutting down the factory, denying employees severance and vacation pay they had earned.
Fried is a third-generation union organizer. A graduate of Earlham College, in 1997 she began working for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union, a feisty union with a long radical tradition. Six years later she helped organize the Republic Windows workers into the union.
Robles, who was born in Mexico, came to the United States at 18 and worked as a maintenance mechanic at Republic Windows for eight years. He emerged as the catalyst among the employees, who soon elected him their union president.
The workers’ takeover was hardly spontaneous. Fried, now 41, and Robles, now 43, learned of the potential shutdown, informed the employees and developed a plan. When the official word came from the CEO that the company was not only closing the plant, the workers were ready to be mobilized. Their protest became front-page news after Barack Obama, still the president-elect, voiced support for the workers. Under Robles and Fried’s leadership, the union reached a $1.75 million settlement with the bank that had cancelled the firm’s credit. The company sold the factory to another owner, the plant remained open and the workers kept their jobs and their union contract.
In 2012, the new owner, Serious Energy, announced it was shutting the plant. Again, the workers occupied the factory — this time with the support of Occupy Chicago — and after only 12 hours won a commitment from the owner to keep the factory open for three more months and then sell it to the workers. At Robles’ initiative, and with the help of their union, the workers formed and incorporated New Era Windows, a worker-run cooperative, and began to raise the funds needed to buy the machinery from their former employer and keep producing windows under the new arrangement. It is now open for business.
On Sunday, April 26, UE Young Activists and other UE members participated with thousands of other people in a march in New York City for a nuclear-free, just, and sustainable world. This year is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The United Nations holds a conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty every five years, since the treaty went into effect in 1970.
UE Young Activists who participated in these event were Gary DeLuke, Local 170; Kathleen Coonrod, Local 203; Ryan Macdonald, Local 234; Autumn Martinez, Local 255; Emma Paradis, Local 255; Naomi Grayck, Local 255; Cettina Costagliola, Local 255; Charity Dugener, Local 267; Lyndsey O’Day, national office administrative assistant; and Margo Nikitas, associate general counsel. Other UE participants were Director of Organization Bob Kingsley; Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton; General Executive Board Member Marie Lausch of Local 222; International Strategies Director Leah Fried; Field Organizer Chad McGinnis; and retired International Reps. Carol Lambiase and Leanna Noble.