Being told to train his replacement was humiliating and surreal, but Tom Gaulrapp said the worst part was when the plant’s US flag was taken down before the Chinese engineers arrived.
Gaulrapp decided it was time to take a stand against outsourcing and the man he blames for the loss of his job: Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney, who founded the private equity firm that owns the Freeport, Illinois, auto parts plant.
Romney’s ties to Bain Capital have burdened the Republican nominee’s hopes of winning the Nov. 6 election as Democrats unfavorably paint him as a corporate raider who pioneered the outsourcing of US jobs to countries with lower labor costs.
Romney denies the charge, but his claim to be a man who could revive the economy and boost the prospects of US workers rings hollow here.
Gaulrapp thinks it would only take a phone call from the candidate who has vowed to create 12 million jobs in the US to save the 170 jobs at Sensata Technologies that are about to leave this already economically depressed town of 26,000.
The Romney campaign declined to comment on the situation at Sensata, but a spokeswoman said that the former Massachusetts governor retired from Bain in 1999 and his investments there are controlled by a blind trust, effectively nullifying his links to the firm.
Romney’s campaign recently set up a Web site — business.mittromney.com — defending his record at Bain and the “thousands” of jobs he saved or created by “fixing companies that were broken and giving new companies a shot at success.”
However, the situation in Freeport is a classic example of how what’s best for a company is not always what’s best for US workers, said Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, who is no relation to Tom.
Plant worker Pam Lampros, 53, is worried she’s going to lose her home so investors like Romney can make a bigger profit.
“It just hurts after so many years of hard work and dedication,” said Lampros, a 34-year veteran at the non-unionized plant who had hoped to retire from there. “It’s for corporate greed, more or less.”
Sensata, which is majority-owned by Bain Capital, purchased the automotive sensors unit from Honeywell for US$140 million in cash in January last year.
With annual revenues of US$130 million and valuable patents, the unit was a good buy. However, with 75 percent of the revenue generated in Asia, it made sense to ship production to Sensata’s facilities in China, the Netherlands-based company said.
Sayer acknowledged that the decision to shift production to China is “an unfortunately event” for Freeport.
The workers have had nearly two years to prepare for the plant closure. Some have found new jobs and those who remained were given retention bonuses to help keep operations going until the last pieces of equipment are shipped elsewhere.
They got riled up in June when Romney visited nearby Janesville, Wisconsin and talked about how jobs were his top priority — at the same time they were being told to train their Chinese replacements.
After months of pursuing Romney’s campaign with protests and petitions, the Sensata workers set up camp in the fairgrounds across the road from the plant on Sept. 12 in hopes of drawing more attention to their cause.
In a nod to both the “Hoovervilles” of unemployed workers that sprung up during the Great Depression and the Occupy Wall Street movement, about a dozen people have since been sleeping in tents staked into the cold, hard ground.