The widely celebrated Chicago workers' cooperative, formed in the wake of two factory occupations, says their former employer is going back on its promise to give workers a fair chance to buy the factory and run it as a cooperative. Instead, they say, the company is pandering to its big-money investors.
This is the latest chapter in the workers struggle at the Goose Island factory in Chicago. In December 2008, they occupied the then-Republic Windows and Doors factory. Then, in February 2012, they occupied the same factory, then owned by Serious Energy, to forestall a shut down and get a chance at running the factory for themselves.
"The agreement that we negotiated with Serious Energy in February was that they would take 'reasonable efforts' to find a buyer," said Leah Fried, a spokesperson for the workers' union, the United Electrical and Machine Workers of America Local 1110. "So far, New Windows is the only buyer that is interested in producing windows."
But instead, Serious Energy is threatening to liquidate the factory unless New Era LLC can come up with a bid for the machinery up front. The group was told that bids were due at once on a conference call on Sunday, July 1, and the $1.2 million it offered as a bid was not sufficient, reported Laura Flanders in The Nation.
The group has filed for legal arbitration to forestall the liquidation of the company's assets.
Fried told Truthout that the rush for a bid from New Era LLC came as a surprise.
"For months it was hard for New Era Windows to get that much information [from Serious Energy] and suddenly they want the deal done in a week," said Fried. "This is a clear violation of the shut-down agreement, which includes an arbitration clause."
When the workers first occupied the Republic Windows and Doors factory, they were widely praised for sticking it to the right man - Bank of America. At the height of the financial crisis, workers pointed the finger at the bank, a lender to Republic Windows and Doors, for preventing the company from paying them the wages and vacation time they were owed.
Now, the workers are targeting Mesirow Financial, an investor in Serious Energy.
Flanders details the company's connections:
One of the investors most likely to profit from Serious's shady sell-off is Mesirow Financial, a financial firm with close ties to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Mesirow made a $15 million investment in Serious in 2009. Thomas E. Galuhn, a senior managing director at Mesirow Financial, sits on the board of directors at Serious.
When Mayor Emanuel graced the cover of Michigan Avenue magazine this May, the party for the issue was hosted at Mesirow's swanky Chicago headquarters. In December 2011, Emanuel appointed Olga Camargo, still senior VP of Mesirow, to the City of Chicago Plan Commission, which, among other things, reviews city development plans and long-term "community projects."
Mesirow Chairman, Howard Rossman, is a major contributor to Democratic party campaigns. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rossman gave $30,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2012, along with $5,000 to the DNC and another $2,500 to Barack Obama's re-election effort.
The New Era workers are planning a march on Mesirow Financial today at noon, and have started a petition drive to bring attention to their latest struggle.