It all seems so abstract until you start talking to people. That just what we did when the Overpass Light Brigade visited Bainport, IL., a protest tent-city that has been set up across from a company that is being dismantled for resettling in China. This photo diary, done in collaboration with Madison photographer Wendi Kent, is an attempt to render this global flow of capital a little less abstract. The words and photos below are Wendi's.
Sensata is owned by Bain Capital which was co-founded and previously run by U.S. Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Recently, a video has come to light in which Romney explains the business model he created for Bain Capital and states their purpose is to buy companies and “hopefully, five to eight years later, to harvest them at a significant profit,”. In January 2011, Bain Capital announced they would be outsourcing over 170 jobs from this plant as well as all equipment, to China. Romney, still owning stock in Bain, stands to profit quite a bit from this move.
Numerous petitions, letters, and phone calls have been made to Bain Capital, the Romney campaign, as well as the Obama Administration. Several employees made the trip to Florida to protest outside the RNC. Pleas directly from the camp and the workers themselves have been made to Mitt Romney to save their jobs. So far, they have received no replies.
Tents are now permanent structures across the street from the Sensata plant. Some residents take turns sleeping in them as a form of protest and to bring attention to the rising possibility of homelessness for many of the workers who have lost their jobs.
Cheryl Randecker (far right) chats with two other women at the Fairgrounds. Cheryl has worked at this plant for 33 years and her job is one of many lost to China. She had to train her replacement. She is worried about her rural town due to its lack of public transportation and that those who have settled near the plant for convenience and now must find work elsewhere.
Pamela Lampros (right), production worker, sits with supporter, Debbi Kemple, at a picnic table set up in Bainport. Pamela has worked at this plant for 34 years: 32 with Honeywell and 2 with Sensata. “Thirty-four years with the company, and then you’re just, you’re overlooked,” she stated through tears. Debbi is a resident of Pearl City and does not work at the plant but goes to Bainport to support the workers. “I just heard about this and had to do something.”
A man sits in front of one of the numerous tents being occupied in protest, the Sensata plant across the street behind him. The tents have sprung up in the County Fairgrounds, and the occupation serves as a long term vigil for the dismantling of a significant part of Freeport's economy.
Tom Gaulrapp has slept at the Bainport camp 18 nights in a row now. Referring to Romney and his relationship with Bain, Tom says, “We have a lot of people who are behind us on this but the person that needs to be behind us, that can stop this with one phone call, won’t do it.”
Tom has been employed at this plant for 33 years. The original severance package was tossed out and replaced with a less generous one. Originally, Tom would have received one week of pay for every year of employment plus a bonus for time over 30 years. That would have given him 46 weeks of full pay while out of work. With the new package a cap was added at 26 years with no bonus so now he will only receive 26 weeks of pay.
I asked everyone I spoke with what they were planning on doing next and Tom, like the others, said he may go back to school. The government has a program which allows for 2 years or up to $20,000 in further education for those whose jobs are outsourced, the condition being that the area of study must be in high demand in the state. At the moment though, Tom is more concerned about being able to pay his mortgage and keep his home and fears that even after extra school, he will be two years older and less attractive to employers. So many of the employees have been at this plant so long, they are in their 50′s and fear they will never be able to get a decent paying job again.
The Overpass Light Brigade brought out all of their letters, lit them, stacked them against the fence. Multiple messages were displayed throughout the night which the workers held.
We marched across the street to the entrance of Sensata Industries. Someone brought a Chinese flag. Denny, a musician from Milwaukee, played bagpipes into the night. Security finally came out to hassle people, but we had already crossed back to Bainport.
OLB's signs are stacked against the fence. This was the first time that all signs have been lit at once and it looked pretty cool.
Today, big trucks drove up to the loading docks. It was rumored that they were there to take apart machinery that some of these folks had worked at for over three decades. The residents of Bainport marched to Sensata and blocked the gates so trucks could neither get out nor in. The standoff lasted a few hours until the police came and the workers peaceably returned to their tent city.