New Era Windows Cooperative Forms in Chicago

Via New Era Windows

"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."

More resources on the formation of New Era Windows Cooperative

Democracy in the Workplace: All About Collectives

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Role of Cooperative Incubators in Transitioning Workers to Management Roles- WAGES

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How Worker Cooperatives Work

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Jenny Kassan on Raising Capital for Cooperatives

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John Logue

John Logue, long time organizer and advocate of cooperatives and employee ownership, has passed away. There are obituaries here (be sure to read the comments), here, and here. Rest in peace.

Here are links to a small selection of his writings.

Here he talks about the Jeffersonian aspects of employee ownership.

The O&O Supermarkets of Philadelphia

The O&O Supermarkets were a series of worker cooperatives in the Philadelphia area in the 1980s. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1357, in partnership with Philadelphia Area Cooperative Enterprise (PACE), organized the first two stores in 1982 as part of a negotiation to keep the stores from being shut down by A&P. Three other buy-outs followed, and one supermarket was started from scratch with city support. At peak in 1987, there were six stores, and more than 700 workers participating in cooperative education programs.

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At Union Cab, co-op members earn a living wage and run a successful business

From the Cap Times

Thirty years ago this October, Union Cab was born out of the ruins of a strike at another cab company. It has grown from 13 cabs and 45 drivers that first year to 65 cabs and 171 drivers; the company also has five mechanics, 24 dispatchers and a three-person information technology department and an administrative staff.

The company is owned and operated by the people who work there; there's not one boss, there are 215. The people who work there call themselves "members," not employees. The unusual structure works: Last year, for the first time, Union Cab charted the highest number of trips and passengers among the city's cab companies, according to city statistics.

Besides being known for its iconic yellow taxis, Union Cab also has a reputation for having lots of writers, musicians, artists and PhD holders within its ranks. But that's not what makes Union Cab interesting, says account manager John McNamara. In fact, the stereotype just diminishes what the company has achieved, he argues.

"We're working-class people who can run our own company without the parental figure of a boss in charge," McNamara says. He says Union Cab has proven that working people can manage their own company "efficiently, financially and in a humane way." And while it's true that many members have college degrees, the company's success is due to "working-class people who are willing to give time to run this company and make it work. That's something people forget."

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Pot of Gold: Is California's Revolutionary Rainbow Grocery Supermarket Utopia?

"Fast forward through four decades of tortuous Bay-area foodie in-fighting and radical politics and Rainbow has emerged at the top of the lentil pile, with a corporate structure very much its own: 260-odd workers (there are no "employees") across 14 autonomous departments, with an annually elected committee representing each (to qualify as a corporate member with a vote, you have to work for 1,000 hours or nine months, attend "orientations" and – gulp – pass a membership test). There is an elected board of directors drawn from the workers, but as Kemp and Gilmore admitted while extolling the virtues of Rainbow's egalitarian ethos, it can take an awful long time to get anything done. And though he says there's capacity to expand the current Rainbow Grocery operation, Gilmore believes a collective is as only strong as its personal relationships, which would suffer with the advent of a chain of stores."

The UK's Independent ponders San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative.

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Federation for Economic Democracy (FEDO)

The Federation for Economic Democracy (or FEDO) was a network of local technical assistance organizations advocating worker cooperatives and self-management from 1975 to 1977 in the eastern United States. The federation's efforts focused on converting closing factories and businesses, an epidemic problem of the era, to democratic workplaces.

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