Workers at a Chicago building materials plant formerly known as Republic Windows and Doors refused to leave work on Friday and occupied the building on what was to have been the plant’s last day of operation.
“Workers were told today (Friday) it was going to be last day of production,” wrote journalist Micha Uetrict on Twitter. “Workers demanded chance to find buyer, save jobs, or start worker-owned cooperative. Company said no. So they occupied.”
About 65 workers at the Goose Island manufacturing plant owned by California-based Serious Materials took part in the occupation. A little more than three years ago, workers at the same plant that was then owned by Republic Windows and Doors, also faced the loss of their jobs because the company was closing the plant. They staged a sit-in that lasted five days and won concessions from their employer that resulted in the plant returning to production after Serious purchased the factory from Republic.
Friday’s plant occupation occurred after workers received calls from their union, UE Local 1110, to stay at work after the final shift ended at 2:00 P.M. When the final shift was over, workers gathered in the cafeteria to discuss their options. They decided to stay in the building until the company agreed to talk to their union representatives about possible options to closing.
“We’re not leaving until we are satisfied,” said Melvin Maclin, a Serious employee and president of UE Local 1110 to the Occupied Chicago Tribune.
Shortly after the in-plant occupation was announced, Arise Chicago, a labor-faith community action group, issued a call for supporters to demonstrate their solidarity with the Serious occupiers by coming to the factory. Occupy Chicago also issued a call for solidarity with the Serious workers.
Police arrived on the scene but stayed outside. They did not try to remove occupiers inside but did try to prevent food deliveries to them. The police eventually relented and allowed pizza to be delivered
Meanwhile, about 100 people gathered outside in the rain. On the inside, union representatives began negotiating with Serious management. The union wanted the company to keep the plant open for three more months, so that the union and company could find a buyer for the plant. The union also wanted workers to continue being paid.
By 11:00 P.M. more people had arrived outside, some with tents and sleeping bags. Some of the sleeping bags were sent inside while the tents were pitch, and people prepared to occupy the space outside the plant, where a banner reading “WORKERS UNITE” was hung.
In a gesture of solidarity, workers inside the plant sent tacos and other food to those on the outside.
A little after 2:00 A.M. the union announced a deal. “Serious has agreed to keep the plant operational and people on the job for another 90 days while the union workers and company work together to find a way to keep the plant open with new ownership,” said Mark Meinster of UE.
Saturday morning, Serious issued a statement confirming that the company agreed to keep the plant operational while a search for a buyer gets under way.
“They told us (the occupation) is illegal,” said UE Local 1110 member Armando Robles. “But it is illegal what they have tried to do to us, too–twice already. We know that it’s illegal to occupy, but the two times we’ve done it, we have come out with success. So if we have to do it again, well. . .”