Feds: Republic broke law

The National Labor Relations Board's regional director has found Republic Doors and Windows violated federal labor law in closing the company's Goose Island plant.

The agency is seeking to fine Republic an amount equalling two weeks of pay for roughly 200 members of the United Electrical Workers Local 1110 who lost their jobs in December, when the plant unexpectedly closed.

Republic relocated to Iowa without notifying the union, failied to bargain with the UE and created another company, Echo Windows and Doors, LLC, as "an alter-ego entity in order to avoid its collective bargaining obligations with the UE," says a statement from the NLRB.

Calls to Richard Gillman, the former owner of the company, for comment were not returned.

Armando Robles, one of the workers and a union representative, says the beginning of negotiations between the NLRB, UE Local 1110 and representatives for the defunct companies was a positive step, but it could be a long time before the workers see a payoff.

The issue is complicated by the fact that Republic is operating under the protection of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Because of that, the NLRB will seek to negotiate with Republic rather than levying a fine, says Terry Morgan, a deputy assistant general counsel with the agency. Absent an agreement, the agency would have to get in line behind other creditors, which would likely diminish the amount Republic pays.

If the company chooses not to settle, Morgan says, an administrative judge could impose stiffer penalties. 

The judge's decision could also include going after the owner's assets, Morgan says, "if funds are intermingled. We would do our darndest to collect."

"I've seen people thrown in jail for not complying with us," Morgan says.

Republic workers have been without jobs since December. They staged a six-day sit-in at the plant, which attracted national media attention.

Robles says Serious Materials, a California-based window maker which moved to reopen the plant, has indicated it could begin hiring workers as early as next month.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14, or fernando [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.