(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the veteran Democratic leader who mentored a young Barack Obama and remains one of the president’s closest allies, was not planning to be at Obama’s side for today’s final round of debate preparation.
Rather, Durban was headed back home to Illinois for a meeting with workers at the Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, where 170 employees are slated to lose their jobs to outsourcing before the end of the year.
Sensata, which for decades has produced state-of-the-art sensors and controls for Ford and General Motors, is precisely the sort of high-tech operation that a country looking to compete in the global economy of the twenty-first century would want to maintain as a domestic manufacturer. So why are the jobs moving to China?
Because Bain Capital owns the company, and Bain is committed to the industrial development of Chinese provinces—not to states like Illinois. That’s not what most Americans would identify as a smart choice for the nation’s future—let alone “economic patriotism.”
But that is how Bain, which got its operating ethos from former CEO Mitt Romney, operates. Romney still profits mightily from his Bain connection—as The New York Times and numerous business journals have well documented—and he remains closely tied to current Bain executives. So if anyone could get Bain to rethink the outsourcing of the Sensata jobs, it’s Mitt Romney.
At least, that’s what Illinoisans think.
In July, the Freeport City Council voted unanimously to ask Romney to come to Freeport, meet the workers and intervene with Bain on their behalf. Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp even offered to host a debate between Romney and President Obama at the local historic site where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas once debated.
In September, Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn visited Freeport and issued a similar call.
Now, on the day of the critical second debate between the presidential candidates (in Hempostead, New York, rather than Freeport), Durbin is headed to the community workers have dubbed “Bainport.”
And rightly so.
What’s happening in Freeport is a small piece of a big story: that of outsourcing technology jobs—the high-tech positions that should be powering America’s economic renewal—from the United States to China. And that issue ought to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s debate.
As Paul Gaulrapp, a thirty-three-year employee at the factory that was once honorably operated by Honeywell, says: “It’s time to draw a line in the sand on the outsourcing of good, American jobs.”
Moderator Candy Crowley, a savvy CNN correspondent who cannot be unaware of the Freeport fight, should raise the issue.
If she does not, President Obama can and should put it in the mix. Obama does not need to abandon his medium-cool persona to define the direction of tonight’s debate. He just has to raise the right issues. He can do that by putting a human face on the issue of outsourcing—and Bain Capitalism.
Few stories are more instructive with regard to America’s outsourcing crisis—Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing says the US has lost 5.5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, overwhelmingly to China, as 50,000 factories have closed—than that of the Sensata workers in Freeport. And none does more to highlight the Republican presidential nominee’s record of promoting job growth… in China.
Indeed, as the United Steelworkers union illustrates with a dramatic new video on the outsourcing fight: “Mitt Romney and Bain Capital are profiting by selling out American workers [and] shipping US jobs to China.”
Romney should be confronted on this issue. He should have to answer questions and provide explanations. But he won’t do that in Freeport. Indeed, he has studiously avoided the town—even when a June bus trip across southern Wisconsin put him in close proximity to the northern Illinois community.
Mitt Romney’s “Every Town Counts” bus tour scrupulously avoided towns where Romney’s Bain Capital continues to put the hurt on American workers.
When Romney stopped in Paul Ryan’s Janesville, Wisconsin, and then traveled to Dubuque, Iowa, on Monday, June 18, he was just up the road from Freeport.
But Romney did not stop in Freeport, a town that like Janesville and Dubuque has been hard hit by trade and fiscal policies that encourage corporations to shutter US factories and ship jobs overseas—and that has been even harder hit by speculators who buy up factories, strip the assets and close them.
On the day Romney was busing across the region, Sensata workers gathered in front of the factory with handmade signs that read:
“Romney! Stop Bain Outsourcing to China”
“Mitt Romney Save Our Jobs”
“Romney: Instead of talking about JOBS, just don’t ship MINE to China”
The workers had every reason to be upset with Bain—and with Romney.
Their plant has always been innovative and productive. It was owned for decades by Texas Instruments, and then by Honeywell, before being sold in 2010 to Sensata Technologies Holding, N.V, a firm based in the Netherlands but majority-owned by Bain Capital.
The workers at the plant pleaded with Romney to make a slight detour on his bus trip and take a look at the devastation being caused by Bain’s machinations at a plant where many of them had been employed for more than thirty years.
Even then, the plant’s operations were rapidly shrinking as crews removed safety equipment from machines that were being prepared for shipment from Illinois to China.
“This used to be a very high-volume plant and now it’s pretty much a ghost town… and by the end of the year it will be a ghost town”, Sensata employee Cheryl Randecker told local reporters.
Had Romney come to Freeport, he would have heard how much Bain’s approach has harmed not just the Sensata workers but Freeport and counties along the Illinois-Wisconsin stateline that have suffered more than their share of plant closings.
“Sensata is moving forward with the process of relocating jobs from their operations in Freeport to China,” explains John Blum, the chairman of the Stephenson County Board.
In addition to the “significant human toll on the more than 140 families that will be affected by this loss of jobs and financial security,” says Blum, “The loss of these jobs will have a tremendous impact on our regional economy.”
That’s a story Mitt Romney definitely does not want to focus attention on.
So his bus didn’t stop in Freeport.
Romney will not go near Freeport.
But that does not mean he can or should be able to avoid the issues raised Bain’s outsourcing of the Sensata jobs.
He should be asked a simple question in tonight’s debate, and on the campaign trail going forward: Is talk about renewing the American economy credible coming from a man who continues to profit from the plant closings, the layoffs and the outsourcing practices that are crude byproducts of Bain Capitalism?
For more on Romney's support of free trade at the expense of American workers, check out John Nichols on Romney and NAFTA. And be sure to join Nation writers for a live chat during tonight's debate. RSVP here.