Monday, December 08, 2008

Republic Windows Closes Its Doors

Republic Windows and Doors is just the type of business that, for reasons both economic (good, blue-collar jobs in the community) and sentimental (good, blue-collar jobs an urban community -Republic is in the center of Chicago), most of us want to see succeed.

Alas, after 43 years in business, Republic shuttered its doors last Friday, citing the Bank of America's decision to cancel its line of credit.

While Republic may be closed, their web site's still standing, as is its mission statement.

Our Mission
To consistently exceed our customers' expectations with defect-free products and services, that provide performance and value delivered on-time and at a fair price.

Alas, there's no more mission statement to fulfill - at least for a while. But Republic's workers, who were let go with no severance and no payout of their vacation time, aren't going quietly. They have occupied the factory, and are vowing to stay put until they get their pay. (One of the issues in contention is the plant closing law, which the union representing the workers contends has been violated.  The law requires 60 day notice when there's going to be a mass lay-off. (Information on the plant occupation is taken from a Chicago Tribune article.))

I don't know the ins and outs of this law, but I remember that when I was at both Wang and Genuity, lay-offs were generally announced two-months in advance, although specific workers weren't notified that they were losing their jobs until lay-off day. Apparently, nothing was uttered in this case other than assurances that things were going to be alright.

I'm sure that the last minute notice at Republic is because management tried up until the last moment to keep things going. Given all that's been going on, 60 days ago is an eternity - 60 days ago, things didn't look quite as bad as they do now. Maybe they had some big orders canceled. Maybe they were counting on accounts receivable from a now bankrupt construction firm. Maybe they thought that their friendly neighborhood banker would come through.

But, wait, there is no friendly neighborhood banker.

It's Bank of America. Which can, in fact, be as community-friendly and good-corporate-citizen-y as the next mega-bank.

But they, not surprisingly, have troubles of their own.

And they are, of course, under no obligation to extend credit to an outfit if they don't see that they're ever going to get paid back. And any company, like Republic, that's involved with the construction industry, can't be looking any too credit-worthy these days.

When the micro-mess at Republic gets unraveled, there will be no real bad-guys to point to.

Just the larger, macro-mess and the culprits responsible for crazy lending, crazy borrowing, crazy financial instruments, crazy spending.  And an almost comic (if it weren't so dire) economic obtuseness when it comes to thinking (or not thinking) about whether we were ever going to have to give the devil his due for all this finagling, gambling, greed, and stupidity.

We have met the enemy, and they are us.

Meanwhile, there are "only" a couple of hundred workers at Republic, which looks like a piddling number, given the mass lay-offs of the last couple of months. But it's not, of course, piddling if you're one of them.

If you're a Republic worker, and you've worked hard to deliver on the corporate mission statement, right now you're probably feeling screwed, betrayed, broke, and beside-yourself-worried about whether you're ever going to find replacement work in a) this economy, and b) this life - for there's no guarantee that even when the economy rebounds there'll be much left of the manufacturing industry.

This raises a couple of my favorite perennial questions about the U.S. of A.: Can we survive without having at least some ability to manufacture goods? And can we thrive (and survive as a democracy) without having a broad range of skilled jobs (not all requiring advanced education) that are decently enough paid to enable the majority of citizens to continue to define themselves as middle class?

(People can bitch all they want about fat-cat, feather-bedding unions, but the industrial union movement did help create and sustain - for many years, at least - a thriving middle class.)

Back to the Republic Window plant occupation.

Let us hope that there is some way in which the workers can at least be made whole on their vacation pay, which is truly owed to them.

But when all the creditors start lining up, where do the employees come in. It's nice in the abstract to think that employees come first, but what about the small suppliers to Republic who'll have to lay folks off if their bills aren't paid. Talk about the domino effect. (Which is, of course, one of the reasons why we need to do something to bail-out our head-up-its-tailpipe auto industry...)

And let us hope that the Republic Window plant occupation stays peaceful.

Nothing, thankfully, has gotten truly ugly quite yet in this economy, but we're not too far into the big, bad "it" quite yet, either.

We've already had a few years of mounting backlash against immigrants.  We're starting to hear grumbling about why our tax money should go to fund pensions and health care benefits for government workers, when no one else has them. Those of us who have 401K's are looking at them and asking ourselves how we're going to work until we're 75 if there are no jobs out there.

So, best wishes to the workers at Republic Windows.

And am I the only person who's thinking "Republic Steel"?

For those who don't know their labor history, in May of 1937, workers trying to unionize at Republic Steel marched on the plant. Bricks were thrown (marchers), tear gas canisters were lobbed (police), and shots were fired (police).

By the time the melee ended, 10 of the marchers had been shot to death.

Strikers and police, 1937

(Source - picture and Republic Steel details: Chicago Tribune archives.)

Here's hoping that things stay calm and unbloody, in Chicago and elsewhere, in these our troubled times.

1 comment:

Suggestions 4 Obama said...

I was glad to hear Obama voice his support of these workers. I hope they get every bit of what they're owed and I hope the owners of this company get properly disciplined or fined. When I first heard this story I could not understand that they thought they could even get away with this - but the fact is - they would have gotten away with it if these workers hadn't stood up. Kudos to all of them.