Questions surround union fund after Republic closing

Tensions are flaring between a Chicago union and some former Republic Windows and Doors workers, who are accusing the union of mismanaging money in a fund aimed at helping those left jobless after the plant closed unexpectedly.

The allegations are related to the Window of Opportunity fund, which accepted public donations for workers in the wake of the closure and subsequent labor protests in December at Republic's Goose Island plant.

The six-day sit in attracted national attention and the support of polticians, including Rod Blagojevich, the sitting governor at the time.

Two former Republic workers filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board accusing UE Local 1110 of failing to disclose how much money was raised for the workers. The local was also accused of using the money to support a tour by a select group of workers,  rather than to provide benefits to those left unemployed by the shutdown.

Guadalupe Romero, who worked at the plant for several years and filed one of the charges, says she and others repeatedly asked for copies of financial statements associated with the fund and still don't know exactly how much was contributed and how it has been spent.

"We just wanted some transparency," Romero says.

Richard Kelliher-Paz, deputy regional attorney at the NLRB Chicago office, says the complaint was dismissed last week. He could not provide details on the reasons behind that decision.

The workers plan to meet Tuesday with the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national advocacy group, to discuss further action on the issue. That could include appealing the NLRB's decision.

Leah Fried, a UE Local 1110 organizer, says union officials have provided members detailed breakdowns of contributions to the fund and expenditures. Donations were solicited in person and online, with one page of a union Web site offering a PayPal link to contribute.

Further, she says, none of the funds went to travel.

Union members voted to spend money in the fund to search for a potential buyer for the Republic plant, she says. 

Fried says she could not disclose how much money had been contributed to the fund without checking with the local's executive officers, who were not immediately available Friday.

Serious Materials, a California-based window maker, eventually agreed to reopen the plant. Fried says the company has already agreed to a new contract with the union that preserves the pay of the workers and provides for hiring the laid off workers.

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.