We broadcast live from the Bainport encampment in Freeport, Illinois, where workers from Sensata Technologies — owned by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital — are on day 50 of their protest against plans to send their jobs to China. Bainport has gained national attention in the run-up to the presidential election, as the workers have unsuccessfully appealed to Romney to save their jobs. Last week, 14 people, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, were arrested following a protest march on the Sensata plant. The next day, several Sensata workers walked off the job to protest the way management has been responding to the protests. We’re joined by three Sensata workers: Joanne Penniston, a single mother of two; Bonnie Borman, who has worked at the plant for 23 years; and Tom Gaulrapp, who has worked there for 33 years. We also speak with Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, about why he is supporting the Bainport workers. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. The East Coast has been devastated by the superstorm Sandy. The task of rebuilding is very difficult. It’s the largest Atlantic tropical system on record. We’re going first, though, to where we are right now. We’re in the middle of the country. We’re in Freeport, Illinois. And we are here on day 50 of a quite remarkable encampment of workers who are protesting the fact that their plant, which is directly behind me across the street, owned by Sensata, is soon going to be closed, and their jobs, more than 170 of them, shipped to China. The plant, owned by Sensata, is actually owned by Bain Capital, and so the workers have been calling on Mitt Romney to intervene, Mitt Romney who owns stock in Sensata, which is owned by Bain Capital, the company he founded.
We’re joined right now by two of the workers, who actually got arrested last week. We’re joined by Bonnie Borman, as well as Joanne Penniston.
And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!, actually back to Democracy Now! Bonnie, can you talk about what actually is happening?
BONNIE BORMAN: Well, we’re on day 50, and we’re still trying to get some response from Mitt Romney, but we’re not really expecting much at this point. We’re getting a lot of national media now. We’re—we’re still fighting to get the word out there that, you know, outsourcing these good-paying American jobs is just wrong, and we want it to stop. And so, we’re here freezing our—
AMY GOODMAN: Don’t say it.
BONNIE BORMAN: —self off. Yeah, and—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I should say, it’s absolutely freezing here. And Joanne, describe the action that took place last week. I mean, this has been building—why you decided, all of you, 50 days ago to begin this encampment, that’s been approved, actually, by the city, by the city of Freeport. You’re here on the Stephenson Fairgrounds, and they said that you could use these fairgrounds. Joanne?
JOANNE PENNISTON: Yeah, well, we did it because we had went to the RNC, we went to headquarters, Mitt Romney’s headquarters in Madison, in Iowa and in Chicago, and we got no response. So, we thought we would set up an encampment right across the street and see if that got their attention.
AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of attention has it gotten?
JOANNE PENNISTON: It’s gotten a lot of attention, actually—not from him.
AMY GOODMAN: How long have you worked at the plant?
JOANNE PENNISTON: Six years.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did you get arrested last week? What were you doing? What was your action?
JOANNE PENNISTON: Actually, we went down—we had—I had had a meeting with the police chief in the morning, and he had said if there was any more arrests at the plant, that they would shut the plant down immediately. So we marched down there to demand a meeting with the plant manager, and we were arrested for trespassing.
AMY GOODMAN: Bonnie, you were also arrested.
BONNIE BORMAN: Yes, I was. At the age of 52, for the first time in my life, I was arrested, on my daughter’s birthday. So, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Your daughter is how old now?
BONNIE BORMAN: Twenty-three.
AMY GOODMAN: This is how many years you’ve worked at the plant?
BONNIE BORMAN: Exactly. So, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You were pregnant with your daughter—
BONNIE BORMAN: Yes, I was.
AMY GOODMAN: —when you came to work at the plant?
BONNIE BORMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been the explanation of Sensata for—I mean, it’s a company that is financially successful—why it is moving, closing down the plant and moving to China?
BONNIE BORMAN: Well, their explanation is that they want to move the operations closer to where they have other operations, you know, more customers. But actually, the parts that we make here are for GM and Chrysler, which are in the United States, so moving it to China doesn’t make any sense. But that’s the explanation that we were given.
AMY GOODMAN: The plant brought in the Chinese workers that will be replacing you for the workers to train?
BONNIE BORMAN: Yes, I’ve trained a couple of them myself. So, yeah, we’ve trained our replacements.
AMY GOODMAN: How does that feel?
BONNIE BORMAN: It’s tough because, you know—I mean, I don’t hold anything against the Chinese workers; they’re just doing their jobs. But it’s hard to have to train someone to do your job and to know that you’re going to be unemployed, and they’re going to be working.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the plant has—you walked out of the plant? In addition to being arrested, you walked off the job?
BONNIE BORMAN: Right, because they said—well, they threatened to close the factory if we had any more protests. But then they realized that they can’t—they can’t keep us from protesting. That’s against the law. And so, on Thursday when I went back, they had—we had a meeting at about 10:30 with the plant manager, the HR person from Attleboro, Massachusetts, and our supervisor. And basically, they handed out a memo that stated that we’re not closing the facility, but if you feel unsafe by what’s happening here, that you can stay home, and you will get paid. And I was just kind of like, well, they’re trying to make us look like thugs over here. And so, I was angry, and I started to walk away, and I turned around, and I said—I said, "No, I’ve got to do this." I walked over to the plant manager, and I said, "So, if I feel threatened by what you, as management, are doing, does that mean that I can leave?" And he said, "Yes." And so I went to my supervisor. I said, "I feel threatened by what management is doing here, and I’m going home." And he said, "OK," and I walked out the door.
AMY GOODMAN: And Joanne, you followed suit: you didn’t even come into work that day?
JOANNE PENNISTON: I actually just called the HR rep and—and told her the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Your daughter also got arrested. She’s 16 years old. We interviewed her on Democracy Now!, Karri.
JOANNE PENNISTON: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened. You were working at the time?
JOANNE PENNISTON: Yeah, I was working, and I received a call from the police department saying that my daughter was arrested for blocking equipment. And, you know, I’m pretty proud of her. I think it takes a lot of courage for a 16-year-old to stand up. There’s a lot of adults that wouldn’t have did that. So...
AMY GOODMAN: And why did she get arrested?
JOANNE PENNISTON: Oh, she blocked the equipment. She wouldn’t move when the police asked her.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what it is, what’s happening with this equipment.
JOANNE PENNISTON: Well, they’re getting ready—they’re crating it up, and they’re getting ready to put it in shipping freights and move it to China.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to call Tom Gaulrapp over. We are—just to describe to people right now, we are in the middle of a fairgrounds. Tom, if you could come over, and we’re going to just do this ad hoc. We’ve been having some technical difficulties, so you can take Joanne’s microphone right off her jacket there, and you can just hold it, even though it’s extremely cold, so I’m sorry to make you take your glove off.
TOM GAULRAPP: No, it’s OK.
AMY GOODMAN: But, Tom, if you can talk—we’ve interviewed you from the beginning. We met you, as well as Bonnie Borman, in—at the Republican convention in Tampa, where you both were at what was called a "Romneyville," which is sort of a—modeled on the Hoovervilles. And you were trying to get the attention of Mitt Romney at that time. You’ve worked at the plant for 33 years?
TOM GAULRAPP: That’s right, 33 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this 50-day encampment and where—if you ever expected that this would be where it is right now.
TOM GAULRAPP: No, we had no idea that it would end up being the way it is. We were just—at the point where we started this, we were just so desperate to try to—to make a last stand, to bring outsourcing to everybody’s attention, and what Bain Capital does. And we—it breaks our heart, why we’re here. But the wonderful show of support that we’ve had from community and from people just all over the country and all over the world, it restores my faith in people, because we’re in an age where so many people live such busy lives, and you get this idea that maybe people are jaded and self-centered, and we have seen just the opposite: we’ve seen the good of people here. And the one good thing that’s come out of this is we’ve had our faith restored in people.
AMY GOODMAN: You went to Bettendorf, Iowa. I mean, this community here in northwest Illinois is between Wisconsin and Iowa, two swing states, so the candidates are coming through frequently. Describe what you did in Bettendorf a month or two ago.
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, we had found out that Mitt Romney was going to be doing a rally at a manufacturing plant in Bettendorf, Iowa. And we were able to go online and get these free tickets. So we went down there, and I was seven rows from where he was. And I stood up, and I asked him—I said, "Governor Romney, will you please come to Freeport, Illinois, and help the Sensata employees save their jobs?" And as we were being escorted out by the security, his supporters are calling us communists. And so, we haven’t figured that one out yet, how trying to keep our jobs from going to China makes us communists.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, these arrests—what do plan to happen? When is it that you all expect to lose your job? Bonnie, you’ve gotten a pink slip?
BONNIE BORMAN: Yes, I am scheduled to be done on Monday, November 5th. So the day before Election Day, I will be unemployed.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what are you going to do then?
BONNIE BORMAN: Well, I’m going to draw my unemployment. I’m going to go vote, vote. And then I’m not really sure. I—you know, because of some pre-existing conditions and my age, I’m not really at the prime hiring age, stage. And so, I’m thinking about, you know, starting to do maybe a couple of classes. I don’t want to go full-blown on school yet, because it’s been 34 years since I’ve been in school, so, you know, I want to kind of take that slow. But it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: And the equipment on the plant, the equipment on the floor of the plant has been slowly taken away, Tom?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah, probably maybe—maybe half of it has been boxed up. It’s—it’s really sad to see the equipment being moved. For me personally, because I’ve been there so long, it’s even more disturbing, because I still see the equipment sitting there, even though it’s not there, and still see the people that worked there that are no longer there, even though they’re not really there, but in my mind I see them. And it makes it really sad.
AMY GOODMAN: So what are your plans, Tom?
TOM GAULRAPP: I’m probably going to do the same thing Bonnie is going to do. I’m probably going to try to go back to school. But I’m 54. You know, again, I have the same problem that Bonnie has, except for even more so because I’m older than Bonnie, in that who’s going to hire me? So, for most of us here, you know, our future is pretty bleak.
AMY GOODMAN: The mayor, who also happens to be named Mr. Gaulrapp, but his name is George Gaulrapp, he was called in by Sensata, by the company owned by Bain here, your employer?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah. They had a meeting with him and the police chief, where they told them that if we did any more civil disobedience over at the plant, that they would close the plant immediately and never reopen it.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we are going to be joined by Leo Gerard, who is the president of the United Steelworkers. He’s coming here for an action today. Well, he’ll be speaking tonight. This is Halloween here. You have a holiday Halloween action planned? Can you describe what that action is?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, we’re going to have an entire day of events here, starting at 3:00 this afternoon. And then Leo Gerard is going to speak at 7:00. And then, I believe the plan is that, after that, we’re going to do a little political theater. We have some puppets and some—some costumes made up, and we’re going to do a little parade around here, around the fairgrounds, and just make a Halloween party out of it.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to see if the satellite truck has our next guest ready. We’re about to be joined by Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, joining us by phone, though tonight he will be right here on the fairgrounds here, the Stephenson Fairgrounds, across the street from Bain Capital’s company Sensata, which is being closed in the next few weeks, the jobs shipped to China.
Leo Gerard, welcome to Democracy Now! We are also joined by three workers who will all lose their jobs. This is day 50 of their action, of their encampment. They are three of the 170 people who will be losing their jobs. Why are you coming out here today, Mr. Gerard? And welcome to Democracy Now!
LEO GERARD: Well, I—I want to be there to make sure that they know that they’ve got friends and supporters—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we can’t hear him, if in fact he is speaking, so we’re going to see if we can go to a break, and we’ll try to get in touch with him. And then we’re going to talk about the superstorm and how it has devastated the East Coast. This is Democracy Now, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I believe we have Leo Gerard on the line with us, the president of the United Steelworkers. Mr. Gerard, you’re coming here to Freeport, Illinois, today on this last day of October. More than 170 workers at the Sensata plant, owned by Bain Capital, will be losing their jobs in the next days, if not weeks. Can you talk about why you are coming out here tonight?
LEO GERARD: Well, I want to be there so I can make sure that I let those brave folks know that they’ve got friends and allies all over America. Our union did a video about their experiences. It got over 200,000 hits. And I really also want to spend time with them to thank them for standing up and fighting for jobs for America. Their fight is not just their fight; it’s a fight for American manufacturing. And in addition to that, that they’ve been able to expose the hypocrisy of the current Romney campaign, and that they have been able to say, as Tom Gaulrapp said, they’ve been able to show that if there’s others who are thinking of doing the same thing, they ought to think twice. And so, I think I’m—I’m very excited about going there and letting them know how brave they are, how much of an impact they’ve had across America, and how much hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people respect them.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of this in this election? Behind me are many signs that are hanging on the fence across from the Sensata plant owned by Bain Capital that say things like "Mitt Romney is the Bain of Freeport" and talk about a jobs plan, Mitt Romney having a jobs plan—for China. The significance—
LEO GERARD: Mitt Romney has no jobs plan for China. I mean, the one thing that the folks in Sensata in Freeport have done is they’ve been able to exacerbate the hypocrisy of Romney and the Romney campaign, that Romney has no jobs plan. He’s got a tax plan to give taxes—tax breaks back to the rich and super-rich. Romney’s plan is the extension of the Bush plan on steroids. Romney has no commitment to jobs in America; he’s got commitments to wealth. And in fact there are studies that have been done of the job creation, so-called, of Bain Capital, and in reality, they’ve cost America 66,000 jobs. And so, I think what’s happened at Freeport is that these very brave people exposed the hypocrisy of the economic model that is thrust upon us and, in much more aggressive terms, exposed the fundamental dishonesty of Mitt Romney and his agenda. So, I think it’s profound that you can have a guy who will get on television and say, "I’m going to be tough on China," while his own investments are closing an American plant and moving it to China, and the people who are managing that for him took down the American flag while the workers were forced to train their Chinese replacements. So I think that there’s lots of opportunity that they’ve created, threats of people from Freeport, to expose the Romney agenda. And for that, I want to be there to thank them and congratulate them.
To the best that we can, our union will try to help find them jobs. If there’s hiring going on in our plants, we’re going to try to get the message to the Freeport workers. And hopefully when President Obama wins, the economy will expand even more and even quicker.
AMY GOODMAN: The workers, Leo Gerard, have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, although they are not unionized, but on the grounds that this—their organizing here is protected concerted activity. Can you explain what that means?
LEO GERARD: Well, if it’s—it’s fairly simple—that their desire to organize, their activities are to organize in any fundamental way is protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act. And when Bain management threatened them, and threatened them by saying, "If anybody comes here that’s not supposed to be here," including themselves walking across the line when it wasn’t their shift, that they will immediately shut down the plant—that’s a threat. And a threat, under the National Labor Relations Act, is a violation. And that was a clear and open and direct threat. Now, what, again, the brave workers at Sensata did is they took the company on on their threat, and a number of them walked across the line. A number of them got arrested, so that Sensata insisted on enforcing their private property rights, but they never got to the point where Sensata was going to close the plant. And so, again, that shows—sort of like Mitt Romney: say one thing and do another.
And again, we see it—to jump a little bit away from Sensata, we see it this week in Ohio, when Mitt Romney is, you know, literally lying through his teeth, saying that Chrysler and General Motors were planning to move jobs to China, so outrageous that both Chrysler and General Motors issued statements. And the Chrysler statement comes as close as I’ve ever seen for a large corporation to call a presidential candidate a liar. They’ve used everything except that word. So, it’s consistent with his agenda. And the folks in Freeport have been able to expose that. They’ve been exposing his heartlessness, his sort of disregard for American jobs, but his total, complete commitment to lining his own pockets with as much money as he can.
AMY GOODMAN: Leo Gerard, why do you think the race is so close in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, if the polls are accurate?
LEO GERARD: Well, I think that there’s a number of things. I think the Citizens United decision has poured unbelievable amounts of money. For example, with Sherrod Brown in Ohio, they’ve spent $30 million in negative ads against the senator. And by that, they’ve used that against the president, as well, where they linked them together. The ungodly amount of money, the complete flip-flop dishonesty, the voter suppression attempts, the attempt by Romney to sort of marginalize and to try and confuse low-information voters. And if I can be so bold, I also think that there’s a large amount of racism still involved. I think that they play on that. The Romney campaign plays on that. They’ll have their surrogates; Romney doesn’t say it, except for the one time where he said nobody has to check his birth certificate. But his surrogates get up and say all kinds of what I call "dog whistle racial comments," where they say he’s not a real American. They still—you know, Romney has not had the spine to stand up and say, "Look at, President Obama and I have fundamental disagreements, but he’s a good American. He cares about this country. He was born here." I mean, he works hard. We saw all this. And, in fact, we saw in the last two days his commitment to America, when he got with Governor Christie in the Sandy hurricane and gave him as much help as he could. He didn’t play politics. And so, I think there’s a lot of that going on.
But I also think that it’s not as close as people think. I think that the president is going to do very, very well in the battleground states. And the more that people like the great, brave people at Sensata can expose the fundamental dishonesty of this campaign—I authored a blog this week—this went out on Huffington Post — where I said that Romney wants to win without honor. And then, I can tell you that for someone to lie their way into the presidency, to not have the spine and the backbone to stand up to other lies that are told by their surrogates, is very, very disconcerting. The president of the United States has to be a person who his word—or her word, some day—will be his bond or her bond. And the reality of that is that nobody in the world knows who Mitt Romney is. He’s whatever he has to be to try and close the deal. And I want to believe that the American people are smarter than that.
And again, I want to come to Freeport, Illinois, to tell the people at Sensata that they have friends, that no one is going to abandon them—we’re going to try to help them, even after the plant’s closed—and that they have done a great, great service to America by exposing what Romney’s agenda is.
I’ll make one closing point. In 1994, when Romney was running against Ted Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, went after Senator Kennedy’s wealth. And when Senator Kennedy said he’d never seen his wealth, it’s in a blind trust, Romney’s response was, "A blind trust is nothing but a ruse. Even when you’re in a blind trust, you can tell your trustee what to do." Now, the people of Sensata exposed that for Romney, because they invited him to turn back the decision, that Bain being the majority shareholder and him having the—him having still the majority shareholder of Bain, they invited him to turn back the decision. He never so much as acknowledged their letter. In fact, he—then he sent police, that—crossing our private property. And so, Romney’s caught in his own lie one more time, and that’s because of the brave people of Freeport and Sensata employees.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Leo Gerard, I want to thank you very much for being with us, president of the United Steelworkers union. He’ll be here in Freeport tonight. I have to say, it is below freezing here in Freeport, and I want to thank the workers who have been with us. You’re going to have a kind of Halloween march today at 3:00 here in Freeport. Bonnie, the masks that I’ve seen inside the tents—
BONNIE BORMAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —what are they?
BONNIE BORMAN: They’re actually—they actually represent the vulture capitalists. They’re vulture masks, so—and we’ve got a big vulture puppet and then our Mitt Romney puppet. So it should be an interesting little parade. So we’re inviting people to come out and join us and have a good time.
AMY GOODMAN: And your final thoughts as we leave you here today? When will the encampment end?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, we’re hoping to just keep it going, but we had our water turned off, because the—if they don’t, the infrastructure, the pipes might break. So right now we’re operating without running water. So we’re going to try to hang out here for as long as we can, but anybody that’s ever camped would know that without running water, it’s a pretty—pretty rough situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. But stay for a bit. We’re having some technical problems, so if we’re not able to make a link with Washington, we’re going to come right back to you. This is Democracy Now! We’re going to go to a music break, and then we’re going to relink up with the East Coast to talk about the superstorm that has devastated areas of the East Coast. In New York, it’s the worst storm in 100 years. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.