Workers at troubled window factory turn to mayor

They occupied the former Republic Windows plant in 2008. Now they want Rahm Emanuel to push a Chicago financial firm to help save their jobs.

July 6, 2012

A Chicago-based financial firm with ties to Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a say on the future of a troubled Goose Island window factory. The workers at that plant are asking for Emanuel’s help to save it.

Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc. has invested big bucks in the factory’s California-based owner, Serious Energy Inc. Mesirow Senior Managing Director Thomas E. Galuhn serves on the Serious board of directors.

A Mesirow statement to WBEZ calls the window factory a “money-losing operation” and talks about auctioning off the assets. The plant’s workers fear that would lead to liquidation.

The same workers held a six-day occupation of the factory in 2008 and won moral support from President-elect Barack Obama. The occupation pushed a lender of Republic Windows and Doors, the plant’s owner at the time, to settle with the workers.

In 2009, a precursor to Serious Energy bought the window company for $1.45 million and vowed to try to bring back the workers.

This year, however, Serious Energy told them it was closing the operation.

The company made that decision after investing “several million dollars trying to reengineer the Republic operation to make it sustainable,” the Mesirow statement says. “Serious concluded that in the present economic climate it was not possible to turn around this money-losing operation.”

About 60 employees began another occupation of the factory February 23. After 11 hours inside, they left with an agreement. Their union — the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110 — says Serious Energy promised to keep the plant open another 90 days and help find a buyer.

Now about two dozen of the workers have formed a cooperative, New Era Windows LLC, in hopes of purchasing the business themselves. They are not disclosing investors but say they have raised nearly $500,000 to buy some of the plant’s equipment and resume production.

A union official said Serious Energy agreed late Thursday to hold off on a planned auction and resume negotiations with the workers.

The cooperative is calling on Emanuel to help broker a deal. “His administration has made a commitment to try to save jobs and promote manufacturing,” said Brendan Martin, a New York-based consultant who is helping the cooperative raise funds. “The city also happens to be interested in environmental retrofitting programs like new windows.”

Martin also noted that the city invested millions of dollars in tax-increment financing for the plant.

If Emanuel gets involved, he might have some pull. In December, the mayor appointed Mesirow Senior Vice-President Olga Camargo to the city Plan Commission. In May, when Michigan Avenue magazine put Emanuel on its cover, Mesirow’s Chicago headquarters hosted the edition’s release party.

Neither Emanuel’s office nor Serious Energy answered questions about the factory Thursday.