Workers at Bain-owned Sensata plant to walk out in response to management threats

Online Staff Report

FREEPORT, Ill. — Workers facing outsourcing at the Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Ill., plan to walk off the job at 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 25, in protest of what they termed “repeated threats against and harassment of employees by Sensata management.”

The walkout comes on the heels of 14 arrests during a march on the plant yesterday, Oct. 24, during which the Rev. Jesse Jackson and three workers were arrested.

The 14 arrests Oct. 24 bring to 23 the total number of arrests since workers began protesting the outsourcing of their jobs.

Workers also filed two unfair labor practice charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Oct. 24 for cracking down on protected concerted activity and threatening to close the plant early if workers continued to protest.

Following through on that threat, Sensata reportedly circulated a memo Oct. 25 stating that employees could leave with pay if they felt threatened by the protests — which would effectively shut down the plant immediately if employees opt to stop working.

Two charges were filed with the NLRB. The first charge was for “increasing security and announcing a new policy, or a previously unenforced policy, prohibiting off-duty employees from entering work areas at non-work times, in response to and in retaliation for employees engaging in protected concerted activity,” while the second charge was for threatening to shut the plant down.

The charges come after the Sensata plant in Freeport had been shut down for the weekend Oct. 20-21 in the face of growing protests and national attention.

MSNBC’s The Ed Show broadcasted live from the Bainport encampment across from the plant at Stephenson County Fairgrounds Friday night, Oct. 19, in front of a crowd of hundreds, while CNN reported live from the camp three times last week.

Sensata has emerged as a flashpoint in the controversy over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s ties to China. Sensata workers have pleaded publicly with Romney to help save their jobs from being outsourced to China. Not only does Romney stand to profit from the outsourcing of these jobs through the stock he still owns in the company, his 2011 tax returns show he got a huge tax break by moving Sensata stock to a charity organization he controls — and that he continues to profit from Bain’s offshore holdings and tax avoidance strategies.

Three community supporters were arrested earlier in the month for blocking trucks from removing equipment that was on its way to China. Six were arrested as the Sensata workers tried to deliver a petition to the plant manager last week as part of their effort to win a full severance. Workers who have been at the plant for 20, 30 and even 40-plus years are getting 26 weeks of pay as a severance from Bain-owned Sensata.

Bainport is an encampment set up at Stephenson County Fairgrounds in Freeport, Ill., by workers facing outsourcing at the plant. The fairgrounds is at 2250 S. Walnut Road, Freeport.

Workers began the encampment Sept. 12 to protest Bain’s decision to ship their jobs to China and increase the pressure on former Bain co-founder and CEO and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to help save their jobs. The plant employs 170, and the final layoffs are expected to be made in November.

Created by Bain in 2006, Sensata develops, manufactures, and sells sensors and controls for major auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors. Workers at the plant have been training their Chinese replacements, who have been flown to Illinois by the company.

Sensata workers at the Bainport encampment were joined Oct. 20 by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Oct. 21 by workers from Republic Windows in Chicago who successfully occupied their factory four years ago and won their full severance. They have since become founding members of the worker-run cooperative New Era Windows.

The workers plan to stay at the Bainport encampment until Romney agrees to help save their jobs, or, as stated in a release from the group, “until middle-class voters nationwide understand the dangers of a Romney economy for our country.”

According to SEC filings, Romney served as CEO of the private equity investment firm Bain Capital from its founding in 1984 until 2002. Romney, however, has repeatedly said he left the company in 1999.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., visited Bainport Tuesday, Oct. 16. The workers have previously welcomed former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Bain workers from France to their encampment.

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.

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

Posted Oct. 25, 2012

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