Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 27, 28 or 29
One of the most recent groups of U.S. workers to see their jobs outsourced is in Illinois, and they’re blaming Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital.
Freeport’s Sensata Technologies – majority-owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm once headed by Romney – is another example of how venture capital and globalization function for everyday Americans.
Adding personal insult to financial injury, Sensata’s 170 workers are spending their last few weeks before the anticipated shutdown Nov. 2 – four days before the election – required to train the Chinese workers who’ll replace them when operations are moved overseas.
“It’s not easy to get up in the morning, training them to do your job so that you can be made unemployed,” Bonnie Borman, a mother of three who’s worked at the auto sensor plant for 23 years, told the Guardian newspaper, based in England.
Workers are being supported by a wide-ranging coalition of local unions, public officials, clergy, and the NAACP.
Romney – who technically left Bain in 1999, but, as revealed this summer, remained “sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president” for years afterward – still owns millions of dollars of shares in the Bain funds that own Sensata. So as U.S. workers lose their jobs to Chinese workers, the value of Romney’s investments could rise, profiting a GOP candidate who’s claimed to prioritize creating new jobs.
This summer, Democrats seized on an analysis from the nonpartisan, nonprofit tax analysis publication Tax Notes projecting that such Romney policies would “increase employment in low-tax countries by about 800,000 jobs.”
“There’s only one problem,” President Obama said. “The jobs wouldn’t be in America.”
Sensata was born in 2006, built from separate endeavors Bain bought from AirPax, Honeywell, Texas Instruments and other companies. Sensata bought the Freeport plant in 2011 as part of a wider purchase of a car-parts business from Honeywell.
Sensata spokesman Jacob Sayer told the Guardian that closing the Freeport plant to cut costs was a key element of that Honeywell deal.
“If that had not been part of the strategy, then the deal would not have been so attractive,” he said.
Sensata’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) show that it had 6,400 employees in 2006 – 20 percent of them in the United States. Now, “Sensata employs nearly twice as many people, but fewer U.S. workers. Under Bain’s ownership, the U.S. share of jobs at Sensata dropped to 17 percent in 2007, 12 percent in 2008, 10 percent in 2009, and 9 percent in 2010 and 2011,” reports Josh Edelson in Salon.com. “Planned layoffs could bring that percentage down to 7 percent.”
Bain itself declined to comment.
While cutting U.S. jobs, Sensata has expanded abroad in countries such as Bulgaria, China, the Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Mexico and South Korea, plus affiliated operations in Belgium, Japan and the Netherlands.
“Since 2007, a Sensata-owned factory in Baoying, China, expanded from 167,000 square feet to 440,000,” Edelson added. “Since 2009, a Sensata-rented facility in Changzhuo, China, expanded from 244,000 feet to 316,000. Meanwhile, Sensata-owned facilities in Standish, Maine, and Cambridge, Md., have disappeared from the company’s filings.”
As production shifts overseas became almost an annual event at Sensata, so did federal assistance for workers who lost jobs due to outsourcing. Trade Adjustment Assistance records show eight instances since 2007 in which groups of laid-off Sensata workers in six cities qualified for government help.
Area leaders insist Sensata remains profitable.
“This company is competitive globally,” said the 52-year-old Freeport mayor, George Gaulrapp, a Democrat. “They make a profit here. But Bain Capital decided to squeeze it a little further. That is not what capitalism is meant to be about.”
Objecting to Bain’s outsourcing isn’t partisan. The City Council in Freeport this summer unanimously passed a resolution calling on Romney to visit, meet workers, and help avert the outsourcing. Also, Republicans including U.S. Reps. Bobby Schilling (Moline) and Don Manzullo (Crystal Lake) have reportedly written the corporation to ask it to avoid the shutdown.
Sensata workers weren’t unionized, although some who’ve worked there for decades said that there had been talk about organizing, but because most felt well-treated by the previous owner, Honeywell, the effort failed.
Freeport, population 26,000, had a jobless rate of 9.7 percent this summer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“This is just a move by some rich folks to make more money, to become richer,” said George Benson, president of the Freeport chapter of the NAACP. “They are sending these experienced workers’ jobs overseas just for money. They just keep lining their pockets. This just isn’t in Freeport, this is all over. We have to stand against it. It’s a big fight. But it’s an important fight worth being in.”