Stimulus Funds Help Chicago Glass Factory Reopen

The window factory in Chicago that was the scene of a tense sit-in by workers in December is reopening. The workers protested when Republic Windows and Doors abruptly shut down the plant after filing for bankruptcy. Now a company that makes energy efficient windows is reopening the factory with indirect help from the federal stimulus package.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A window factory in Chicago that was the scene of a tense sit-in by workers last December is reopening. The workers protested when Republic Windows and Doors abruptly shut down the plant after filing for bankruptcy. Now, a company that makes energy efficient windows is reopening the factory with indirect help from the big federal stimulus package. NPR's David Schaper reports.

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DAVID SCHAPER: This was the scene back in December, scores of workers staging a sit-in at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago while fellow employees and supporters marched and chanted outside. The company had just announced it was closing down and laying off all 300 of its employees and that it wouldn't pay severance, leading union employees, including Raul Flores, to hunker down inside the plant.

Mr. RAUL FLORES (Employee, Republic Windows and Doors): We're going to have to stay as long as it takes.

SCHAPER: After six tense days, the company and its bankruptcy financiers reached a deal to pay the workers' severance. The workers went home, and ultimately on unemployment, while the plant went dark for more than four months. Now, the lights inside the factory are back on.

Mr. VICENTE RANGAL(ph) (Employee, Serious Materials): Oh, it was kind of like a ghost town, you know. It was - nobody around.

SCHAPER: Vicente Rangal is part of a skeleton crew of about a dozen former Republic workers now preparing to reopen the window factory.

Mr. RANGAL: It was all dusted. There was a lot of dust.

SCHAPER: Rangal is a maintenance technician, so he's been cleaning up that dust and getting the machinery in the plant ready to be turned back on as California-based Serious Materials gears up to restart production here. Serious Materials bought Republic's assets in February. CEO Kevin Surace said Monday the company is expanding to capitalize on the federal government's massive stimulus spending.

Mr. KEVIN SURACE (Chief executive officer, Serious Materials): And so the opportunity for us is unbelievable with this recovery act.

SCHAPER: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, as the stimulus package is known, includes $8 billion in weatherization and energy efficiency grants for things like new windows in office buildings, as well as tax credits for homeowners who buy new, energy efficient windows.

Mr. SURACE: There's between $30 billion and $60 billion, if you include all the school act stuff, too, that can come to us. And $60 billion is a lot.

SCHAPER: Surace doesn't pretend Serious Materials can get all of that work, but because his company specializes in green building materials, including energy efficient windows and glass, it is well-positioned to get a significant slice of stimulus money spent on making buildings and homes more energy efficient.

Last month, the company reopened a similar shuttered window factory outside of Pittsburgh. The Obama administration is quick to highlight its role in creating these green jobs with stimulus funds, sending Vice President Joe Biden to the president's hometown Monday to mark the occasion.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: The single greatest immediate impact on the environment that we can have as a nation is weatherization. That's the immediate biggest bang for the buck. It has the advantage of creating jobs, jobs right here in America.

SCHAPER: Biden met with some of the workers who staged the highly publicized sit-in five months ago. Maintenance technician Vicente Rangal says he believes that demonstration is why he is working today.

Mr. RANGAL: Nothing like this could have happened. I mean, this is a reality. You know, as long as you stay together and you focus and you believe on something, you've got to fight for it. And that's what we did.

SCHAPER: But while Rangal is back working, his wife is still unemployed. She, too, worked in the window factory but hasn't yet been called back to work. Serious Materials says it should be able to hire back almost all of the laid-off workers within a year.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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