HEART OF CHICAGO — When 200 Republic Windows employees staged a sit-in to protest their factory’s sudden closing in 2008, activist Stephanie Weiner was right there at the door with supplies and aid.
“She was one of the first people [at] the door with her kids and her husband,” former Republic Windows employee Armando Robles said. “We love the relationship with her. It’s amazing to us, that kind of support.”
Weiner said she and her husband, Joe Iosbaker, knew what to do when they heard of the sit-in.
“We had occupied things before. So we knew, 'Get in the car,'” Weiner said.
Both longtime Chicago labor activists, Weiner and Iosbaker brought pillows and sleeping bags for the workers, who were protesting Republic Windows' sudden closure. The next day, Iosbaker gave a rallying speech and Weiner helped document the sit-in.
After six days, the workers received a $1.75 million settlement. And five years later, many of those workers went on to start their own window factory — New Era Windows — at the former Campbell’s Soup factory at 2600 W. 35th St.
But they didn’t forget about Weiner, who was dying to be their first customer. She had opened her store — Revolutionary Lemonade Stand — at 2315 S. Leavitt St. in November, and the poorly insulated windows were making her living and working space less than ideal.
Weiner wrote emails back and forth with Robles, now one of New Era Windows’ founders, who said the new company's opening would most likely be delayed until summer.
“Toward the end, I wouldn’t even write, I would just go, ‘Brrrr!’” Weiner said laughing.
After swapping in some new Lowe’s windows in her bedroom, Weiner was able to make it through the winter for the official New Era windows.
On July 3, New Era workers installed 10 new windows at Weiner's business.
“Practically they were crying, they were so proud,” Weiner said of the workers. “They had inspired themselves. It was really a moment.”
“She has a special place here with us,” New Era Vice President Ricky Maclin said of Weiner. “We waited a long time to get to that point.”
Weiner said she planned to sell New Era’s work T-shirts at her store along with mini commemorative versions of the windows.
Ultimately, Weiner said, nothing touched her more than witnessing the power of worker protest that cold December five years ago.
“Bravery pushes the boundaries of what is possible and then changes conditions,” Weiner said. “They’re all such heroes.”