Sit-In Success: Republic Windows to Reopen

The factory where laid-off workers staged a highly publicized sit-in that garnered national attention last year has been sold to a California company that hopes to rehire them soon, their union and the new owner said Thursday.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Serious Materials, a green-oriented windows manufacturer, purchased the former Republic Windows & Doors plant for around $1.5 million, United Electrical Workers spokesman Mark Meinster said.

The company has agreed to offer jobs to the former staffers, he said.

"People are very, very excited," Meinster said. "Especially in this economy, to be creating jobs is really, really exciting."

Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace said the company has agreed to rehire workers, but noted several steps -- including renegotiating a lease for the building and repairing factory equipment -- still need to be taken before the shuttered plant can reopen.

"If we can do all those things, everybody's going to get their jobs back," he said. "But there has to be a place to work first -- and the equipment has to work. We're not quite there yet."

The company essentially bought Republic's assets but not Republic itself, Surace said.

Republic filed for bankruptcy shortly after the December sit-in. And a federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of Republic's assets to Serious Materials on Wednesday, Surace said.

About 200 of the 240 laid-off workers occupied the doors and windows manufacturer for a week in December, demanding severance and accrued vacation pay after Republic gave them just three days notice before closing the plant down.

The weeklong protest drew national attention and drew supportive words from then President-elect Barack Obama.

The company's main creditor, Bank of America, was criticized for cutting off funds to the plant, and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich had ordered all state agencies to stop doing business with the bank.

The workers had argued the shutdown violated federal law because employees were not given 60 days' notice.

Despite the general economic downturn in the U.S., demand for the energy-efficient windows made by Serious Materials at four plants around the country remains strong, Surace said.

He noted the nearly $800 billion federal economic stimulus includes more than $30 billion for environmentally friendly products like those made by Serious Materials.

"We don't believe we'll get the whole $30 billion," Surace said with a laugh. "But we fully intend to take advantage of all parts of the bill that apply to us."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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