Four hardy souls from rural Illinois joined tens of thousands of people undeterred by threats of Hurricane Isaac during this week's Republican National Convention. They weren't among the almost 2,400 delegates to the convention, though, nor were they from the press corps, said to number 15,000. They weren't part of the massive police force assembled here, more than 3,000 strong, all paid for with $50 million of U.S. taxpayer money. These four were about to join a much larger group: the more than 2.4 million people in the past decade whose U.S. jobs have been shipped to China. In their case, the company laying them off and sending their jobs overseas is Bain Capital, co-founded by the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
We met the group at Romneyville, a tent city on the outskirts of downtown Tampa, established by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign in the spirit of the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. A couple hundred people gathered before the makeshift stage to hear speakers and musicians, under intermittent downpours and the noise of three police helicopters drowning out the voices of the anti-poverty activists. Scores of police on bicycles occupied the surrounding streets.
Cheryl Randecker was one of those four we met at Romneyville whose Bain jobs are among the 170 slated to be off-shored. They build transmission sensors for many cars and trucks made in the United States. Cheryl was sent to China to train workers there, not knowing that the company was about to be sold and the jobs she was training people for included her own. I asked her how it felt to be training her own replacements after working at the same company for 33 years:
"Knowing that you're going to be completely out of a job and there's no hope for any job in our area, it was gut-wrenching, because you don't know where the next point is going to be. I'm 52 years old. What are we going to do? To start over at this point in my life is extremely scary."
Cheryl and her co-workers learned that the Honeywell division they had been working for had been sold to Sensata Technologies. They researched Sensata. "We found out this summer that it was owned by Bain [Capital],"she said. "Then we found the connection between Bain and Governor Romney. And that just spurred a little bit of emotion ... we wanted to stand up and fight back and take a stand for the American people and for our jobs."
Cheryl and her co-workers started a petition that got 35,000 signatures, which they delivered to Bain Capital in Evanston, Ill.
They work in Freeport, in the northwest corner of Illinois, not far from Iowa and Wisconsin. Tom Gaulrapp, another 33-year veteran of the Honeywell company now owned by Sensata/Bain, knew that Romney would be campaigning in both of those swing states. He described their efforts that followed: "We attempted to bring an open letter to the Romney campaign headquarters after they repeatedly said that they were unaware of the situation. At every stop, when we tried to have contact with them, they locked us out of the building. [In] Madison, Wisconsin, they called the police on us."
So they went to a campaign event where Romney was speaking, in Bettendorf, Iowa. Tom stood up and appealed to Romney to come to Freeport to help them save their jobs. He was shouted down by the crowd, which chanted, "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" Tom continued: "We're there trying to save our jobs, and we were called communists. For trying to stop our jobs from going to communist China."
I asked Cheryl why they were targeting Romney, who no longer runs Bain. "Mitt Romney created the model of outsourcing jobs," she explained. "He created Bain ... he is still reaping very high benefits from Bain, financially. So he can pick up the phone and call his buddies and say, 'We need to stop this practice and keep the U.S. jobs here.'"
Bonnie Borman was pregnant with her daughter when she started at the factory 23 years ago. She told me, "I now have to compete with my daughter for minimum-wage jobs." Tom added: "We've been told our last day of work will be Friday, Nov. 2. We'll file for unemployment the following Monday. The day after that, we vote." Just to be safe, they should bring a photo ID.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.