After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, Mitt Romney has been put on the defensive by Bain Capital workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs. One hundred seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois — of which Bain is the majority owner — are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China. The factory manufactures sensors and controls that are used in aircraft and automobiles, but has been dismantling and shipping the plant to China piece by piece — even as it requires the workers to train personally their Chinese replacements, who have been flown in by management. We’re joined by two workers from the Sensata plant in Freeport, Illinois: Tom Gaulrapp and Cheryl Randecker. Both worked at Sensata for 33 years and were told their jobs would be terminated by the year’s end. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," as we cover the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, inside and out, as we will do in Charlotte next week, as well, covering the Democrats.
Well, as the Republican National Convention gets a late start due to Tropical Storm Isaac, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is facing another type of storm, one involving his tenure at the helm of private equity firm Bain Capital. After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, the former Massachusetts governor has been put on the defensive by Bain workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs.
One hundred seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois, of which Bain is the majority owner, are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China. The plant manufactures sensors and controls that are used in aircraft and automobiles, but has been dismantling and shipping the plant to China piece by piece, even as it requires the workers to train personally their Chinese replacements, who have been flown in by management. The workers in Illinois say their petition of 35,000 signatures, as well as their multiple visits to Romney’s headquarters, have fallen on deaf ears, so they’re taking their plea straight to Romney here at that Republican National Convention.
Two of them are joining us now in our Tampa studio here at WEDU, PBS TV in Tampa. Tom Gaulrapp is with us, and Cheryl Randecker. Both worked at Sensata for 33 years, were told their jobs would be terminated by year’s end. Tom and Cheryl, welcome to Democracy Now!
TOM GAULRAPP: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, let’s start with you. Tell us what’s happened.
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, when they took over the plant, they told us—
AMY GOODMAN: Who’s they?
TOM GAULRAPP: Sensata Technologies. When they took over the plant—
AMY GOODMAN: Who was it owned by before?
TOM GAULRAPP: It was owned by Honeywell, and they sold the automotive business to Sensata Technologies. And they brought us into a meeting, and they said all the jobs are being moved to China by the end of 2012. And they have—since that happened, they have slowly started to move this equipment out. And these areas which were full of equipment and full of people working very hard on this highly technical equipment is now empty space, where the only indication there was ever anything there is the discoloration of the floor.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Cheryl, how did you find out who even bought your plant? It was owned by Honeywell. You’re making these sensors for General Motors, for GM. And then what happened?
CHERYL RANDECKER: We actually found out—we all went home and looked up Sensata, and we found out in this summer that it was owned by Bain. And then we found the connection between Bain and Governor Romney. And that just spurred a little bit of emotion that we wanted to stand up and fight back and take—take a stand for the American people and for our jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you first heard that Honeywell was being bought, that your plant was being bought, when you were actually in China training your replacements? The company sent you to China?
CHERYL RANDECKER: Actually, I was in China for Honeywell’s, moving their lines. And then—I was over there in June of 2010, and they said the automotive line had been sold. When we got back Freeport—
AMY GOODMAN: You learned in China.
CHERYL RANDECKER: In China. When we got back to Freeport, we asked the managers at that time if this was true. "No, this is not true." October, the end of October of that same year, they announced that they were being—the automotive line was being sold to China, or just Sensata, and was—probably be moved.
AMY GOODMAN: So, now, you were training your replacements in China, and then the Chinese—some of the Chinese workers came to the plant to be trained here, as well, in the United States?
CHERYL RANDECKER: The workers that I trained in China were for Honeywell. The workers that we trained here in the States at—this last group of people were the Sensata workers.
AMY GOODMAN: How did that feel to be training your replacement?
CHERYL RANDECKER: Knowing that you’re going to be completely out of a job and there’s no hope for any job in our area, it was gut-wrenching, because you don’t know where the next point is going to be. I mean, we’re 52 years old. What are we going to do? So, within three weeks—or, not three weeks, three months, my life is going to change as I know it. And to start over at this point in my life is extremely scary.
AMY GOODMAN: But you don’t blame the Chinese workers.
CHERYL RANDECKER: I don’t blame the workers so as much as I blame the governments of both countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, taking this issue to Mitt Romney, how have you done it? Where have you raised your voice?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, the first thing we did was the employees signed an open letter to Mitt Romney urging him to come to Freeport and to help save our jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, locate Freeport, Illinois, for us.
TOM GAULRAPP: Freeport, Illinois, is about two hours west of Chicago and about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin border, so it’s really in the northwestern corner of the area, of Illinois. And the economy there is really bad. So, after we wrote the open letter, we did petition drives to congressmen. We did a petition drive to—which was delivered to the Bain Capital headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. And we attempted to bring the open letter to the Romney campaign headquarters after they repeatedly said that they were unaware of the situation. At every stop when we had to—tried to have contact with them, they locked us out of the building. At the one campaign headquarters outside of Madison, Wisconsin, they called the police on us. So then we tried to ratchet it up, and we actually went to a Romney event, campaign event, in Bettendorf, Iowa, where we politely asked him to come to Freeport, Illinois, and help save our jobs. And our response there was we were also forcibly removed from there. So, we decided to ratchet up even more, and that’s why we’re here.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the supporters of Mitt Romney when you come to events where he is, what their response is to you?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, you know, we’re there trying to save our jobs, and we were called communists. For trying to save our jobs from going to China from the United States, we were called communists. They—if there hadn’t been a large police group in there, I’m sure we would have been more threatened. They started this "U.S.A." chant. It’s like, yes, we’re all for the U.S.A., too. That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs from being moved out of this country to China. And they make it sound like we’re not patriotic. And it boggles the mind as to what they’re thinking.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, when I was talking to you in Romneyville, you said, as they called the workers communists, you asked why they’re sending your jobs to communist China.
TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah, yeah. You know, and one of the things that really bothered some of us was that about a month before—it was less than that—couple weeks before they brought the Chinese workers in, they physically removed the American flag that hung outside the plant. And the week after the Chinese workers left, they put it back up, like they were afraid they were offending somebody, you know. And it’s—and it’s like, I’m sorry, but this offends us. This offends 170 people who are having their jobs moved to China, only to increase the bottom line, because, you know, these products have always been profitable, and it’s just not enough.
AMY GOODMAN: But, Cheryl, Mitt Romney doesn’t work for Bain anymore. So why is this his responsibility?
CHERYL RANDECKER: Mitt Romney created the model of outsourcing jobs. He created Bain, so therefore it is his responsibility. And he is still reaping very high benefits from Bain, in the financial end of it. So he can pick up the phone and call his buddies and say, "We need to stop this practice and keep the U.S. jobs here." And it’s good-paying jobs, not the lower-paying jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Have either of you spoken with other workers laid off by Bain-owned companies?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes, we’ve had contact with some of them, when we were down here.
AMY GOODMAN: Here?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are your plans here at the Republican National Convention?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, actually—
AMY GOODMAN: You were in that march in the afternoon—
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —the unpermitted march. Interestingly, it was led by Cheri Honkala, who is a well-known anti-poverty activist, who happens to be now the Green Party vice-presidential candidate. Joe Biden didn’t show up here, though he was going to—
TOM GAULRAPP: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —the vice president and vice-presidential candidate. But Cheri did.
TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah. We’re actually going back today, so we’re not going to be here for any more. I think we’re doing an event today, but then, after that, we’re actually going back home. We feel like one of the things that’s come out of this, besides getting our message out, is we’ve had an opportunity to meet a lot of people who are dealing with this issue, as well, you know, with—whether it be outsourcing or whether it be people that work for Bain that are making very low wages, you know. And it’s all part of this corporate view that anybody can do anything, and you don’t need to reimburse them for it.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to Mitt Romney, who doesn’t tout his time as governor of Massachusetts, but his time as a business executive, to bring us out of an economic recession—some say depression—now?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, what I would say to him is I think he should be ashamed of what they’re doing, because they’re destroying our American dream to increase their profits.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cheryl?
CHERYL RANDECKER: I would have to say, look at—take a look at what you’re doing. Get in touch with the American people. You created this model. You’re taking good jobs away, and you’re saying you can replace them with the lower-paying jobs. And how are people supposed to get by?
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Cheryl Randecker and Tom Gaulrapp.
TOM GAULRAPP: Thank you. Thank you very much.
CHERYL RANDECKER: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Bain workers now, but not in a few months.
TOM GAULRAPP: Yep, not for long.
AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our broadcast. By the way, I’ll be speaking this Friday at noon in Sarasota, Friday night in St. Petersburg at the Palladium Theater, Saturday night in Coral Gables in Miami, Sunday night in Charlotte, where we’ll begin to cover the Democratic National Convention. You can check our website for the 100-city tour at democracynow.org.