Visit from civil rights leader, three arrests highlight busy week at ‘Bainport’

Karri Penniston (with sign reading “Romney is sending my Mom’s job to China”) (from left), Debi Kemple and Jerry Ontjes are joined by supporters after being released from custody. The three were arrested Oct. 8 for attempting to block the removal of equipment from the Freeport Sensata plant. (Photo courtesy of

• Workers at Freeport’s Sensata Technologies plant continue to rally against the November outsourcing of their jobs

Staff Report

FREEPORT, Ill. — Workers facing outsourcing at Freeport’s Sensata Technologies plant and their supporters had an eventful week last week as the closure of the plant nears.

Friday, Oct. 5, Sensata Technologies workers Tom Gaulrapp, Dot Turner and Joanne Penniston delivered a petition to Plant Manager Daryl Tessman signed by a majority of the workers at the Freeport, Ill., plant demanding a full year of severance pay.

We’ve fought hard for months, calling on Sensata, Bain Capital and even presidential candidate Mitt Romney to save our jobs — and they have ignored us,” the petition reads. “Now, it’s time to join together and fight for what they owe us: a full year’s severance. Another six months of pay is the least they can do after having us train our own replacements and destroying our livelihoods just to maximize their profits.”

The workers’ severance package was cut just a few months before Bain-owned Sensata took over the plant — signaling that the company wanted to avoid paying full severance to its employees when it shipped their jobs to China.

Tessman refused to accept the petition, so the workers pledged to send it to Sensata’s headquarters in Attleboro, Mass., as well as to Bain and Mitt Romney headquarters in Boston.

Community members Jerry Ontjes (left) and Debi Kemple attempt to block the removal of equipment from the Freeport Sensata plant. (Photo courtesy of

Sensata Technologies, which was created by Bain Capital in 2006, develops, manufactures, and sells sensors and controls for major auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. Despite rising profits, the company plans to institute the final layoffs in November. The workers are training their Chinese replacements, who have been flown to Illinois by the company. The plant is at 2520 S. Walnut, Freeport, Ill.

Republican presidential candidate Romney is a co-founder of Bain Capital, the private equity investment firm that created Sensata. According to SEC filings, Romney served as CEO of Bain Capital from its founding in 1984 until 2002. Romney, however, has repeatedly said he left the company in 1999.

During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention Aug. 31, Romney defended his time with Bain Capital.

That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story,” Romney said. “Some of the companies we helped start are names you know. An office supply company called Staples — where I’m pleased to see the Obama campaign has been shopping; The Sports Authority, which became a favorite of my sons. We started an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons that First Lady Michelle Obama rightly praised. At a time when nobody thought we’d ever see a new steel mill built in America, we took a chance and built one in a corn field in Indiana. Today, Steel Dynamics is one of the largest steel producers in the United States.

These are American success stories,” Romney said. “And yet, the centerpiece of the president’s entire re-election campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression? In America, we celebrate success, we don’t apologize for it.”

Following the rejection of their request for severance pay, Sensata workers welcomed civil rights leader and former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond to “Bainport,” the movement’s encampment at Stephenson County Fairgrounds, for a rally Oct. 6. Bond offered the workers a message of hope and perseverance.

Community member Debi Kemple is handcuffed after being arrested for blocking the removal of equipment from the Freeport Sensata plant. (Photo courtesy of

Monday, Oct. 8, three community members — Debi Kemple, Karri Penniston (the daughter of a Sensata worker Joanne Penniston) and Jerry Ontjes — were arrested for blocking the removal of equipment from the Sensata plant. They have all since been released from custody.

I was proud to take a stand for American jobs and for my mom,” said Karri Penniston. “Our family depends on my mom’s job at Sensata to make ends meet — and our country depends on jobs like these for a strong middle class.”

Workers began to camp outside the Freeport plant last month in protest of the outsourcing. They plan to stay at the encampment until Romney agrees to help save their jobs.

Over the past few months, Sensata workers have tried to contact Romney with a 35,000-signature petition, frequent protests outside the plant and trips to nearby campaign offices.

In July, the Freeport City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on Romney to meet the workers and use his influence at Bain to intervene on their behalf. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) echoed their call during a trip to Freeport later that month. The situation has even become an issue in the congressional race in Illinois’ 17th district.

Workers took their campaign directly to Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27-30.

From the Oct. 10-16, 2012, issue

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