Good News for Former Republic Windows Workers

Kari Lydersen

Republic Windows and Doors employee Felipe Pillado stands inside the factory during workers' occupation of the Chicago facility in December 2008.

CHICA­GO—Seri­ous Mate­ri­als, the Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny that bought Repub­lic Win­dows and Doors fac­to­ry after work­ers occu­pied the sud­den­ly-closed fac­to­ry last year, announced today it will sup­ply win­dows for the country’s largest home weath­er­iza­tion agency, the Com­mu­ni­ty Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Asso­ci­a­tion of Cook Coun­ty (CEDA).

The new con­tract should mean a big uptick in busi­ness for Seri­ous Mate­ri­als, help­ing the com­pa­ny hire back more of the 250 employ­ees who lost their jobs when Repub­lic Win­dows closed. So far the com­pa­ny has only hired 17 work­ers, rep­re­sent­ed by UE Local 1110, which signed a con­tract with Seri­ous Mate­ri­als and helped nego­ti­ate the fac­to­ry pur­chase last winter. 

Seri­ous Mate­ri­als has promised to hire back all the for­mer Repub­lic Win­dows work­ers, some of whom worked at Seri­ous Mate­ri­als’ Cal­i­for­nia plant this summer.

The delay in rehir­ing has been caused large­ly because weath­er­iza­tion funds from the stim­u­lus (Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act, or ARRA) have not led to a quick surge in new win­dow orders, as many had hoped. (Peo­ple through­out the Chica­go metro area apply to CEDA for stim­u­lus and oth­er Depart­ment of Ener­gy funds to weath­er­ize their homes, which can include installing insu­la­tion, new win­dows, calk­ing and oth­er measures.)

Fed­er­al law man­dat­ing that work­ers in the fed­er­al­ly fund­ed pro­gram be paid a pre­vail­ing wage, which in many areas the Depart­ment of Labor had not deter­mined until this sum­mer and fall. 

The high­ly ener­gy-effi­cient tech­nol­o­gy used by Seri­ous Mate­ri­als and some oth­er sup­pli­ers is also so new that it had not been includ­ed in the for­mu­las ener­gy audi­tors use to design weath­er­iza­tion plans for indi­vid­ual homes. (Win­dow effi­cien­cy is mea­sured by an R” val­ue. Most win­dows on the mar­ket have a 2 or 3 val­ue; Seri­ous Mate­ri­als makes them up to R‑11. Weath­er­iza­tion pro­grams are like­ly to buy win­dows around an R‑5 val­ue, since the high­er R val­ues are also more expensive.) 

The ARRA allo­cat­ed $242.5 mil­lion in weath­er­iza­tion fund­ing to Illi­nois over the next two years. Home­own­ers mak­ing up to 200 per­cent of the fed­er­al pover­ty lev­el can apply to have their house weath­er­ized, at an aver­age cost of $6,500 per home. Peo­ple in Cook Coun­ty apply to CEDA, then the agency does an ener­gy audit and goes through the state to access fed­er­al funds. The agency has esti­mat­ed the addi­tion­al stim­u­lus funds will allow it to triple its weath­er­iza­tions, from about 3,000 to 9,000 homes a year for the next two years. 

The funds should cre­ate jobs in both man­u­fac­tur­ing – in this case at Seri­ous Mate­ri­als’ Chica­go fac­to­ry – and instal­la­tion, as local con­trac­tors are hired to car­ry out the program. 

Seri­ous Mate­ri­als is also hop­ing for sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness from the pri­vate sec­tor, includ­ing own­ers of large build­ings who want to decrease their ener­gy bills and may also be able to take advan­tage of var­i­ous tax breaks for weath­er­iza­tion. The Sears Tow­er and Empire State Build­ing are both under­tak­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy over­hauls that will entail the pur­chase of hun­dreds or thou­sands of new windows. 

Seri­ous Mate­ri­als CEO Kevin Surace, who vis­it­ed the Chica­go fac­to­ry last week, said the CEDA con­tract should cre­ate jobs at the Chica­go fac­to­ry. Weath­er­iza­tion plans are devel­oped on a local lev­el by gov­ern­ment or non­prof­it agen­cies like CEDA. They decide how much empha­sis is giv­en to win­dows ver­sus oth­er types of weath­er­iza­tion tech­nol­o­gy, based on ener­gy effi­cien­cy formulas. 

CEDA is lead­ing the nation in adopt­ing advanced ener­gy-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies in weath­er­iza­tion pro­grams,” Surace said in a state­ment. This is exact­ly what we need to do across the coun­try to save ener­gy, save mon­ey, and rebuild America’s econ­o­my based on home-grown man­u­fac­tur­ing inno­va­tion and leadership.”

Kari Lyder­sen is a Chica­go-based reporter, author and jour­nal­ism instruc­tor, lead­ing the Social Jus­tice & Inves­tiga­tive spe­cial­iza­tion in the grad­u­ate pro­gram at North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty. She is the author of May­or 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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