Stimulus package may benefit former Republic Windows workers

The stimulus package has a long way to go toward fulfilling President Obama's goal of creating 3.5 million jobs, but it's put a meaningful dent in Chicago for 268 former Republic Windows and Doors workers who were unceremoniously laid off in December and could be back to work as early as next month.

The plant's new owner, Serious Materials, says it expects demand for its energy efficient windows will rise because of provisions in the stimulus package. Because of that, the company is ramping up production.

"We're thrilled that this is going to mean green, union, living-wage jobs for the city of Chicago," says Leah Fried, an organizer for the United Electrical Workers Local 1110. 

The union's workers staged a sit-in after they were locked out of the Goose Island plant late last year. The announcement means workers will have to end their Resistance and Recovery Tour because they will be going back to work.

"We always felt this product had a future," says Fried, who believed Republic Windows and Doors never should have closed.

The union's new contract with Serious calls for hiring all of the former workers who had seniority rights. It will also reinstate their previous wages.

"It's a good contract," Fried says. "The most important thing is that people are going back to their correct pay and no one has a loss in wages. There are slight differences in the benefits but we know that this is a good agreement and it will provide living wage jobs with benefits."

The move by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious drew praise from Vice President Joe Biden and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin yesterday as a sign that the provisions for weatherization and green initiatives in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have already started paying dividends.

“These workers will not only earn a paycheck again; they will go back to work creating products that will benefit America’s long-term economic future," Biden said in a White House statement released yesterday afternoon. 

Durbin said the stimulus package has "recreated a market for energy efficient materials that virtually disappeared as our economic crisis deepened."

Serious Materials produces windows that exceed the minimum requirements established by Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. 

The program identifies environmentally friendly products and practices.

Homeowners who buy Energy Star-certified products may qualify for up to $1,500 in tax credits under the stimulus act.

Serious Materials spokeswoman Sandra Vaughan says the company still has finalize a leasing agreement with Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., the property owner. Serious is also repairing equipment to produce the company's high-end window line.

The Chicago purchase was an integral part of their strategy to establish a national network of manufacturing sites and have a presence in the Midwest, Vaughan says.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14.