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New Era Windows Workers Continue Struggle With Serious Energy

By aaroncynic in News on Jul 11, 2012 4:30PM

Image Credit: Phillip De Von
Last week, workers at the former Serious Energy factory on Goose Island filed for legal arbitration in order to help their newly formed collective, New Era Windows, obtain equipment from their former employer. Workers at the factory, members of the United Electrical Workers Local 1110 who staged sit-ins twice at the manufacturing plant, raised $520,000 and also added about $1,000 each personally in order to purchase the equipment. Everything seemed to be on track for the deal to go through. Just prior to the July 4 holiday, The Nation reported Serious Energy announced that the offer from New Era of $1.2 million ($500,000 cash up front) was not good enough, and the company planned to liquidate the equipment by the end of the week.

Brendan Martin of the group The Working World, who has been helping New Era organize their collective, was on the conference call where Serious made the announcement. “No one else is going to save the factory. Every other bidder is going to chop the place up and sell the machines for scrap,” he told The Nation. New Era workers are relying on the ability to purchase the old equipment, which Serious Energy assured them they would be able to do multiple times, in order to get their factory up and running.

In response, New Era workers and their supporters staged a rally the day before the liquidation last Friday, where about 30 people delivered 2,000 signed petitions to Mesirow Financial. Mesirow is one of the chief investors in Serious Energy. The company made $15 million in investments and a senior managing director sits on the board of directors. Speaking on behalf of Serious Energy last week, a representative from Mesirow said in a statement the company shuttered their Chicago factory, one of six planned shutdowns, because “Serious concluded that in the present economic climate it was not possible to turn around this money-losing operation.”

Since the protest last week, Serious Energy has agreed to negotiate the sale of the equipment, rather than liquidate it. Dennis Kelleher of the Center for Workplace Democracy, an organization which has been helping the New Era workers organize their cooperative, said “There’s no guarantee that they will sell to New Era but it is a better situation then having them sell to a liquidator which they were prepared to do last Friday.”

So far, Serious hasn’t sold any of the equipment. Kelleher theorizes the company most likely never intended to sell it to the workers in the first place. “I think the CEO was just determined to get the best price possible and didn’t think that was going to happen in negotiating with New Era. I think it was incredibly short sighted on their part,” Kelleher said. While the company has been failing financially recently, selling the equipment to the workers, even for a lesser price would have provided both an infusion of some cash, but also a PR boon. Considering the Obama Administration heralded their efforts in making environmentally friendly products, it would make sense. “It could have been a public relations win (and still can be if done right) if they had negotiated in good faith from the beginning with New Era,” said Kelleher.