Back in the day, factory workers at the Chicago-based Republic Windows and Doors were just told what to do. Workers might have seen ways to improve the production process, but at Republic, their supervisor wasn't interested, said former employee Armando Robles.
"Whatever the bosses want, we do it. We'd say, 'Look, this is a better way,' and they say, 'No, we say you have to do it this way.' Even when they make a mistake, they just continue," Robles explained.
Things are very different today. Employees of what is now called New Era Windows Cooperative are also the owners. And their ideas matter. Any of them can propose improvements, and if they can convince a majority of their co-workers, things can change quickly.
"If we make a mistake, we talk to each other and we find a solution," Robles told me when I visited the factory in late September. "We try to do the best for everyone. We work harder because we're working for ourselves. But it's more enjoyable. We work with passion were paid what they were owed. The story went nationwide. Pressure from the union, area activists, and even President Obama led to a victory. The workers were paid, and instead of shutting down, the factory was sold to California-based Serious Materials.