We broadcast from just outside a Freeport, Illinois, factory owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Workers at Sensata Technologies have set up an encampment called "Bainport" across the street from the facility to protest the company’s plan to close the plant and move it to China, taking 170 jobs with it. The workers have been trying to get Romney to save their jobs. We’re joined by two Sensata workers — Mark Schreck and Tom Gaulrapp — and Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who has supported the encampment and fended off calls for it to be shut down. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: "Welcome to Bainport, a taste of the Romney economy." That’s the message on one of the banners that greets you here at this tent city where we’re broadcasting from, two hours west of Chicago in between Wisconsin and Iowa, two swing states. "Bainport" is an encampment set up by workers who are faced with losing their livelihoods when the factory across the street from us closes their doors in November, moving to China, taking around 170 jobs with them.
For more, we’re joined here in Freeport—they work for Sensata Technologies. And this is very significant, because it’s owned by Bain Capital, the private equity company co-founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who continues to earn millions from his Bain holdings. Democracy Now! first spoke with the Sensata workers when we met them at the Republican convention in Tampa, where they hoped to meet Mitt Romney to ask him, well, to help them save their jobs. They never got a reply. Now they’ve returned to Freeport, set up Bainport, where they’re hoping Mitt Romney will visit in the lead-up to the November 11 elections.
We’re joined by three guests here at the Bainport encampment. Two of them are workers at Sensata Technologies. Mark Schreck has worked at Sensata Technologies for six years, a single dad of three girls. And Tom Gaulrapp is with us. He has worked at Sensata Technologies for 33 years. And we’re joined in the middle by Freeport’s mayor, George Gaulrapp—no relation to Tom, but he has supported this encampment and fended off calls for [Bainport] to be shut down.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now!
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, let’s start with you. You’ve worked here for 33 years. Talk about your experience and what’s happening. We saw you in Florida at Tampa, the Republican convention. You came back, and you got your pink slip, your 60-day notice?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes, I actually got it the day after we came back from the Labor Day holiday. So, as the schedule is right now, my last day of work will actually be the day before the election day. It will be November 5th. So, on November 6th, after I go vote, I will go to the unemployment office and apply for unemployment benefits.
AMY GOODMAN: And tell us what happened here in Freeport.
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, you know, this was—this is a business that makes a lot of profits. Sensata Technology has set a record last year for profitability. So it’s not like they’re moving these jobs because it’s either move it or it goes bankrupt. It’s just they don’t make enough. And the Chinese government is providing them with a plant, and they can save on labor. And a dollar seems to be more important to them than any sense of community responsibility towards the areas where they are.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor George Gaulrapp, talk about what this means for Freeport. Tell us about this town that we’re in.
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: It’s a sunny day here in Freeport, but not for everybody. You’ve got friends like Tom and Mark here who are losing their jobs. Governor Romney talks about the 47 percent. These people are being forced into that group because they’re losing the opportunity to work. The Sensata workers are very intelligent, hard-working workers that can compete globally. And when you take 170 jobs out of a community, it’s going to have a negative effect. Now, recently we’ve had other companies come and expand in Freeport, which has been a great thing for our community, but you can’t take one step forward and two steps back in the employment field.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about this encampment. What I meant at the beginning is, you’ve been fending off calls for Bainport to be shut down.
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on a festival grounds here?
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Yes, the Stephenson County Fairgrounds.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s the fairgrounds.
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: I went to the board and asked them if the Sensata workers could be here, and they said, "Absolutely." They were fully supportive of our brothers and sisters here in our community and what they’re going through. So, it’s a good camp to draw attention. But some people are now saying, "Well, enough is enough." And I’m so happy that democracy is here to continue this fight for the Sensata workers. They think they’re going to go away, but they’re not going to go away.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, this plant was owned by Honeywell, who sold it to Sensata, and Sensata was bought by Bain Capital.
TOM GAULRAPP: Right. The building is still actually owned by Honeywell. They’re leasing the area to Sensata. There are approximately maybe 15 to 20 Honeywell employees still in the building. And once the Sensata employees are moved, the—eventually, the other Honeywell employees will be moved out of the building to other Honeywell facilities. And the only sign of life you’ll see over there will be the grass poking through the concrete.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there any thought of workers taking over this plant?
TOM GAULRAPP: I don’t know that that’s a feasible option, you know.
AMY GOODMAN: The machinery is being sent, as we speak, to China?
TOM GAULRAPP: The machinery is being sent, as we speak. For me, personally, after being there so long, it’s kind of disturbing, because the only sign where this equipment was is the discoloration of the floor where it sat. And as you walk by and you picture those pieces of equipment that work there—that were there, you see the faces of the people you used to work with. And that’s really sad, and it’s disturbing, because those people are—who knows what their future holds for them? And a good paying, middle-class manufacturing job probably isn’t in their futures, so...
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Schreck, how old are your daughters?
MARK SCHRECK: They are 11, seven, and my youngest turns five today.
AMY GOODMAN: Happy birthday to her.
MARK SCHRECK: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re a single dad.
MARK SCHRECK: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: When is your last day?
MARK SCHRECK: My last day, I’m not sure yet.
AMY GOODMAN: Of work.
MARK SCHRECK: They haven’t told us. But I do have a meeting today at 3:15 for—and I’m not sure what it’s for, actually, but I’m guessing that could be when they tell me when my last day is, so...
AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid for what will happen next?
MARK SCHRECK: I’m very afraid, because it’s very difficult to help support three children in—with no job in today’s world.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Gaulrapp, what is the company, Sensata, telling you? And do you feel they have an obligation to this town of Freeport?
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Well, they came in and purchased a line from Honeywell, signed a three-year contract. We should have—we should have been a little wary of that, because there’s no additional options for a rental. And a few days later, we heard on the street that they’re going to send the jobs to China. So, they really gave us no indication, no warning of what they were going to do. According to a lot of the workers, it’s just for the additional profit.
What the city has done is we’ve gone out and looked at other companies that are looking for facilities, one as close as Rockford, Illinois. That would have fit perfectly in here, but they decided to expand in Rockford near their facility. What my hopes are is these employees, these friends and relatives, neighbors—they’re very intelligent people. They can compete globally. So we’d like to take this energy and get together and make sure that we can find a company to come here and expand, because we have many examples to other companies that jobs have expanded here in Freeport, and we have a great workforce.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask about Mitt Romney’s responsibility, why, Tom, you have gone to his events to try to speak to him. I’m looking at a piece around Gawker. It says, "According to documents detailing Romney’s finances obtained and published by Gawker, his connection to Sensata is much more direct" than having just founded a company that then took over—
TOM GAULRAPP: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —Bain, but he’s left it. "Romney held a direct investment in Sensata through one fund titled 'Bain Capital Fund IX, L.P.,' dated December 31, 2009, meaning he has likely financially benefited from Bain’s ownership of the company in the past, and could benefit from the plant’s closure and the outsourcing of the jobs to China. According to his 2011 personal financial disclosure, Romney still holds the Bain Capital fund that contains the Sensata investment."
TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah, we look at it that these—Bain Capital board has made their decision. The Sensata CEO has made his decision. So we believe that the only person in the world who can stop these jobs from being moved is Mitt Romney, because of his relationship with the Bain board, his financial investment in Bain Capital. And we also believe that if he would come and talk to us and see the impact that this kind of outsourcing has on not only the people who work there but, as the mayor has addressed, the community and the surrounding area, that he would see that this is absolutely the wrong thing to do because of the devastation it brings. But, you know, so far, we continue to receive no response from them. They continue to say they’re unaware of the situation, although at this point we certainly know they are aware of the situation, so...
AMY GOODMAN: So, you went to Iowa to try to talk to Mitt Romney?
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes. We—
AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible]
TOM GAULRAPP: They were having in event in Bettendorf, Iowa. And they—if you went online, you could get these free tickets, so we decided we would go. And I was seven rows from the podium that he stood behind. And I asked him, "Will you please come to Freeport, Illinois, and help Sensata employees save their jobs?" At that point, we were removed. And as we were being removed, his supporters are scream—first they start a "U.S.A." chant. And we’re like, "Yes, we agree." And then they started calling us communists for trying to keep our jobs from going to China. And I have never understood that yet.
AMY GOODMAN: So what are your plans now? What’s going to happen with this encampment? I mean, we are now sitting in a place where there are many tents around us, signs along the fence. Among the signs, "Outsource the CEOs, not the jobs," "Romney does have a jobs plan. Too bad it’s for China." Those are just two of the signs.
TOM GAULRAPP: Right. We’re going to stay here until either Romney comes to Freeport or until who knows what. We’re open-ended. We plan on being here until he comes to Freeport. And we would urge people to check out our website, Bainport.com, where we upload photos every day so they can see what’s happening here. And we have people coming in every day. They don’t have to camp. They just come in for an hour or two hours and join with us, and not only show support for us but show support for working families and for the stopping of this outsourcing. So, if you’re coming by Freeport, Illinois, do like Amy did and stop in and see us.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the Korean workers who are expressing solidarity with you.
TOM GAULRAPP: We saw the video where the Sensata Technologies brought in the special, shall we say, enforcement people to deal with the striking Korean workers. And we welcome everybody who works for Sensata or Bain. We’re on the same page with them. We support their struggle just as much as they support ours. It’s absolutely imperative that people stick together on this stuff, because that is how we stop outsourcing of jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, the two Republican representatives in this area, Bobby Schilling and Don Manzullo, wrote a letter to Sensata Technologies urging them to keep the jobs in Freeport. They received a reply from Sensata CEO Thomas Wroe Jr., who told them, quote, "Our customers are global and we have located our major business and manufacturing facilities near them in locations around the world. Two-thirds of our revenues come from outside of the U.S. ... We know these layoffs are very difficult for the people affected and we have made efforts to ameliorate this." That was the Sensata CEO saying this.
TOM GAULRAPP: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on how this is playing out locally?
TOM GAULRAPP: Well, to us, it was just a situation of basically saying, "Well, we’re going to do whatever we want, and if you don’t like it, that’s just—sorry, you know, that’s the way it is." And they seem to have this attitude that a person’s success is based on how much money they have. And that’s not the case. And for them to say, "Well, we want to have our business there in Asia, where our" — supposedly where their business is at, the majority of it, well, there are a lot of businesses in the United States that sell a lot of stuff in Asia that have manufacturing facilities in the United States. So that’s just an excuse for them to accept the plant that the Chinese government built for them in China.
AMY GOODMAN: You had to train your own workers.
TOM GAULRAPP: They brought in engineering—
AMY GOODMAN: Rather, the workers that would replace you.
TOM GAULRAPP: Right. Actually, they brought in engineering people who are actually going to train the workers, the factory workers, the everyday workers, in China.
AMY GOODMAN: And a quick last response from the mayor, what you say to other mayors around the country who are facing these kind of factory plant closures with people being sent off—jobs being sent to China?
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Well, I take a quote from President Obama. He said mayors who have their feet on the ground, they get things done. And what we would like to do is—Freeport is the home of the Lincoln-Douglas debate site. We’ve invited both campaigns, President Obama and Governor Romney, to come to Freeport and debate in an old-style campaign, just like Newt Gingrich suggested during the Republican primaries. Now, we sent letters out to Governor Romney, and we’ve called his campaign headquarters. It would be a perfect opportunity for him, the architect of who mastered how to send jobs over offshore, to come back here and reverse the trend. We’re 65 miles from Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville. It’s a perfect location to come, have your feet on the ground and meet a cross-section of America.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all very much for being with us.
TOM GAULRAPP: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Schreck, Tom Gaulrapp—
MAYOR GEORGE GAULRAPP: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: —and Mayor George Gaulrapp. When we come back, when we came last night to the campfire, where workers were about to go to sleep and then leave for their shifts. This is Democracy Now! in Freeport, Illinois.