Soon-to-be former employees of a Bain Capital-owned factory in Freeport, Ill., have resigned themselves to the fact that their jobs are headed to China. But they're hopeful that their efforts to grab the attention of Bain co-founder Mitt Romney -- and the nation -- won't be in vain.
For more than a month, workers have been occupying a tent city at the Stephenson County Fairgrounds, just across the street from their former employer: Sensata Technologies Inc., which is in the process of shuttering the Freeport plant and moving production to China.
Sensata is an Attleboro, Mass.-based automotive-sensor manufacturer owned by Bain Capital LLC since 2006.
Since this summer, workers and city officials have been pleading with Romney -- who left Bain in February 1999 -- to persuade Bain to keep their jobs in Freeport, appearing on cable talk shows and capturing national media attention in the process.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin are among those who have visited the "Bainport" camp to offer their support. Earlier this week, Jackson led Bainport protesters into the Sensata plant lobby, where he tried -- unsuccessfully -- to gain entry and ask plant management to give the workers their full severance pay.
Still, with dozens of the plant's 170 workers already shown the door, automated equipment operator Tom Gaulrapp said he holds no illusions.
"In a perfect world, we would save our jobs," said Gaulrapp, who has worked at the plant for 33 years. "But we understand that at this point -- short of a miracle -- we're not going to be able to."
However, Gaulrapp, whose last day is Nov. 5, sees a larger purpose for the protest effort.
"If some company somewhere decides that they want to [offshore], and they look at all the attention that we've gotten here, and they decide that they don't want their company's name to be known as an outsourcer like Sensata Technologies is right now, maybe they'll decide that that's not something they absolutely need to do," Gaulrapp told IndustryWeek. "And maybe we'll save some jobs for somebody someplace.
"If that happens, this whole thing has been worth it."
Romney Campaign Blames Obama
Even though Romney had nothing to do with the decision to close the Freeport plant, Sensata workers and community leaders have tried to capitalize on Romney's financial ties to Bain Capital.
In July, Freeport City Council unanimously passed a resolution drafted by the workers that "calls on Mitt Romney to come to Freeport to meet the people directly affected by Bain Capital's outsourcing and to step in and stop the outsourcing of these jobs from Freeport to China."
"[The workers] realize this is an election year," Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp -- no relation to Tom -- told IndustryWeek in July. "They realize that Gov. Romney was associated with Bain, that he was their sole stockholder [until] 1999 and ran the company. So they know there's an opportunity to get some attention."
Recently, the workers got a response from the Romney campaign -- which blamed Obama for their plight.
The campaign noted that Obama, through his pension from being a former Illinois state senator, has as much as $100,000 invested in Sensata Technologies.
However, Sensata workers aren't buying it, said Zoe Bridges-Curry, a spokeswoman for several advocacy groups, including Move On and the Center for American Progress, that have become involved.
"We looked into it and did the math, and it's only $11 that the president has invested in Sensata," Bridges-Curry told IndustryWeek. "So [the Romney campaign] is clearly trying to shift the blame without the numbers to back it up."
"That was their ridiculous argument," asserted Sensata worker Tom Gaulrapp. "It's like, no, Gov. Romney is the one who owns millions of dollars in stock in Sensata, not President Obama through his pension fund."
Still, Romney spokeswoman Michele Davis pointed to reports that Sensata Technologies is moving to China to get closer to its customers -- who include General Motors Co. (IW 500/4).
"The president has powers no one in the private sector has to level the playing field with China and restore the competitiveness is U.S. manufacturing," Davis told IndustryWeek in an e-mail. "President Obama has failed to use these powers, and America has lost manufacturing jobs. Mitt Romney will stand up to China and restore job growth here at home."