It's an all-too-common story in America: A private-equity firm snaps up a manufacturing company and shutters factories, sheds U.S. workers and ships jobs to China -- leaving shattered communities in its wake.
But this time, the story has a twist.
Sensata Technologies Inc., an Attleboro, Mass.-based automotive-sensor manufacturer owned by Bain Capital LLC since 2006, plans to close its factory in Freeport, Ill., and move production to China in November.
But the 170 workers at the plant aren't losing their jobs without a fight.
Although presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has emphasized that he has not had a management role at Bain Capital since 1999, the workers are pleading with Romney to intervene and persuade Bain to keep the jobs in Freeport.
"They realize this is an election year," Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp said in an interview with IndustryWeek. "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."
So far, it's working. On Tuesday night, Freeport Community Development Director Shelly Griswold and Sensata employee Dot Turner pleaded their case on MSNBC's "The Ed Show." Two hours later, Gaulrapp, Sensata worker Cheryl Randecker and Freeport City Council Alderman Shawn Boldt appeared on MSNBC's "The Last Word."
Earlier in the week, 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."
However, Gaulrapp said the resolution is about more than just saving jobs in Freeport.
"They also want to protect other employees throughout Freeport, northwest Illinois and our nation," Gaulrapp told IndustryWeek. "They want employers, the boards and the shareholders to [think about the impact on communities] next time they're sending jobs overseas."
Romney 'Has a Large Voice in This'
Romney did not have any part in the decision to close the Sensata plant and move production to China. However, Romney still has a controlling financial stake in Bain Capital, and Gaulrapp asserted that "he has a large voice in this."
"He's the one who developed the model on the acquisition of companies—tearing them apart and making sure that the selling of the parts is greater than the sum of the whole," the mayor said.
A Romney-campaign spokeswoman told Reuters that Romney was not aware of Sensata’s decision to move production to China, and emphasized that he has not been involved in managing Bain since 1999.
If city officials and workers succeed in getting Romney's attention, though, they want him to know that “their work ethic is second to none,” Gaulrapp said.
“They’re educated. They run highly technical machinery—it’s not like they’re putting in a widget and pressing it down. They do a lot of calculations and they make sure that the scrap that comes out is minimal.
“And they’re productive, so they can compete globally. That’s what really hurts the workers the most.”
'Dig Your Own Grave'
In an effort to thrust Freeport -- and the plight of U.S. manufacturing -- into the national spotlight, the city also has sent letters to both the Romney and Obama campaigns, urging them to take part in a presidential debate in Freeport.
Gaulrapp noted that in 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas took part in a debate in Freeport, in their bids for an Illinois Senate seat.
"We're trying to do everything we can to get the name Freeport out there and have a debate here and have the focus on the Sensata workers and what outsourcing is doing to them and their families," he said.
Gaulrapp noted that he has family members, friends and neighbors who work at the Sensata plant, including his niece, a single mom.
"[Sensata] offered to extend her job a couple months by going to China and training people, which is very tough," he said. " Training people to take your job is like having someone hold a shotgun at your head and say, 'Dig your own grave.'"