The Blue Ox Millworks are a millwork industry in northern Illinois that employs thousands of people and creates hundreds of thousands of pounds of blue ox products each year.
In the summer of 2018, the Blue Ox was hit hard by the devastating winter storms that have devastated much of the state.
The millwork sector in Chicago and throughout Illinois was left struggling.
Millworkers are often paid well below the state minimum wage and are often overworked, leaving them with few options to make ends meet.
“We are going to have to go through the winter without any wages at all,” said Mary Bredewich, a millworker from suburban Chicago.
But even without a paycheck, the millworkers are not looking for any kind of new jobs.
Many of them are simply trying to survive.
“I’ve got a couple of years left on my contract,” said Jim Deen, a Blue Ox worker from the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.
Deen has worked for the mill for 12 years and is now seeking new employment.
He is making the difficult decision to end his six-year contract and return to work.
“We have a big workload and it’s hard on our health, but the health is the main thing,” Deen said.
The Blue Ox has a long and proud history.
In 1858, the Illinois legislature passed a law making blue ox mills eligible for federal assistance.
By 1920, the company employed 1,200 workers in Illinois and Ohio, including more than 40,000 in Chicago alone.
It was the largest blue ox operation in the country at the time and a model for the future of the industry.
During the 1930s, it became a major employer of blue collar workers in the U.S. and across the world.
Around the turn of the century, the U of I also became the first U.s. university to be accredited by the National Association of Manufacturers.
The company has been a major provider of blue labor in Chicago ever since.
Blue ox production grew to 1.5 million tons in the 1970s, according to the mill, but it took another 15 years for production to reach its peak of more than 10 million tons.
Today, the industry employs about 1.8 million people in Illinois, including about 10,000 millworkers.
Although the mills have faced many challenges in the past, they continue to rely on a mix of technology, skill and luck to stay afloat.
“There is a lot of pride in the blue ox industry and we continue to be able to make a lot, because of that,” said Deen.
“It’s a hard life and you have to be flexible.”