FREEPORT, Ill. - For facing down attempts to curb their free speech rights, 14 people were arrested yesterday evening when they marched on the Bain-owned Sensata plant here to demand a meeting with the manager.
The march on the plant was in response to threats by top Bain management to shutter the plant even sooner than the planned December closure if workers continued their protests. The Bain managers came from the company's headquarters in Attelboro, Mass. on Thursday and delivered their threat directly to Freeport's mayor, George Gaulrapp, who has been standing with the workers.
Some 170 outsourced Sensata workers, as they battle to save their jobs, have also thrust Mitt Romney's role as "outsourcer-in-chief" into the national spotlight, potentially impacting the national election less than two weeks away.
Those arrested yesterday include civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Victory Bell-Rockford, an alderman form the neighboring town of Rockford, three Sensata workers - Dot Turner, Bonnie Borman, and Joanne Penniston - and several individuals representing their unions - Brandon Cambell, Ted Denver, and George Welitshimsky of the United Auto Workers, Mel Turner of the United Steelworkers, and Keith Kelleher of SEIU Healtcare Illinois. Together with the nine arrested in previous actions at the plant, people in town are calling the entire group the "Bainport 23."
"Bainport" is the protest tent-city encampment workers set up across the road from the plant 45 days ago.
"Sometimes you have to take a stand for what you believe in." said Bonnie Borman, an arrestee who has worked at the plant for 23 years. "Even though I have given my life to this place, I was arrested for simply wanting to meet with the manager."
"Today, I was proud to stand up against the outsourcing of American jobs," said Joanne Penniston, another arrested Sensata worker. "We are sending a clear message to Bain - and to all companies that decide to cut and run on American workers. We're not backing down."
"This is the essence of the American struggle," said Rev. Jesse Jackson. "It is the fight to keep our jobs."
While management refused to answer repeated calls, Tom Gaulrapp, another Sensata worker (no relation to the mayor), told the Peoples World that there are only about 60 of the 170 outsourced workers still on the job in the plant. The workers had to train their overseas replacements who were flown in and housed at company expense.
Sensata manufactures auto sensors and controls for cars.
Workers say they will continue - and even escalate - their protests between now and Election Day, Nov. 26. They plan a major rally on Sat., Oct 27 at their Bainport encampment. United Auto Workers President Bob King has announced that he will join workers at that rally.
Photo: The Rev. Jesse Jackson with Sensata workers and their families, Oct. 24, in Freeport, Ill. Jackson and about a dozen workers were arrested during a protest at Sensata Technologies, which is owned by Bain Capital. Joe Tamborello/The Journal-Standard/AP