FREEPORT, Il. - GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is utterly disconnected from workers in America. This much is evident when one visits the tent city, "Bainport," here, a protest encampment set up 36 days ago by 170 Bain Capital-owned Sensata workers who will all have lost their jobs by December.
"If you vote for Romney, this is what will happen," said 64-year-old Bobby Ballard, gesturing to the rows of tents that make up the "streets" of Bainport. Ballard, who was laid off after making automobile sensors for 16 years at the plant across the road, warned, "This is what the whole country will look like. What do we do now? Where will we go?"
Sensata worker Tom Gaulrapp is among those who are searching for answers to those questions. In a letter printed by the Huffington Post later that day, he noted, "Layoff notices have been sent out, and some folks have already been laid off. Where there was once lots of people and energy and life, now there's only the discoloration on the floor where the machinery used to be. It's depressing. They're not just dismantling the equipment and the plant; they're dismantling the community."
As the dismantling continued on the morning of October 16, six community supporters were arrested during a sit-in at the Sensata facility after occupying the plant's lobby. Those include JoAnn Matthews (mother of plant worker Mary Jo Kerr); 82 year-old Paul Holz; and Kathy Hoyer (who worked at Sensata for 20 years before being laid off this year) and her son.
"With so many hardworking Americans facing the loss of their jobs to outsourcing, we felt it was time to take a stand," said Hoyer on the reason for the sit-in. "We can't afford to let companies like Bain turn our communities into ghost towns. So our message is clear: Freeport isn't going down without a fight."
Ballard described what it was like the day she learned that her livelihood was gone. "When I found out I was being laid off, I was just in shock," she explained to the People's World. "We all were in shock when we received the news that we were to be replaced by underpaid Chinese workers. The whole room went quiet. None of us knew what to say.
"I'm gonna be 64 in February, and it's going to be hard finding another job. What can I do? I have some savings, but the only options now are part-time jobs with no health benefits. I have four growing children, and grandchildren. I've always been able to help them because I had this good job. Now, I won't be able to do that anymore."
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do if my job is sent to China," said Gaulrapp. "I thought that at this point in my life, after 33 years of working at the plant, that I'd be headed toward retirement. Now, I'm worried that I'll be competing with my nephew for the minimum wage jobs that are just about all that's left in town."
Most of those minimum wage jobs would likely be offered by the giant Walmart supercenter right down the road from Bainport - an anti-union, profit-driven department store otherwise surrounded by struggling smaller stores and workers with options dwindling as fast as their projected incomes.
Referencing the now-infamous remark by Romney in which the Republican denounced 47 percent of Americans as lazy, unemployed people with a sense of entitlement, Ballard clarified, "There's going to be a lot more people unemployed if Romney keeps shipping jobs overseas. The '47 percent' [as he calls us], are going to grow."
"Everyone needs to stand together," she concluded. "Don't just complain - do something."
Mark Schreck, an eight-year Sensata worker, will put in his last day on October 19. From there, he doesn't know where he'll go.
What's particularly insulting in light of this, he said, is when someone drives by Bainport in a car, yelling, 'Get a job!' "I had a job," Schreck clarified. "I did excellent work, and it was a very good job. The job is getting taken away from me."
But Schreck doesn't let those people get him down, because Bainport - yesterday's number-two trending topic on Twitter - is getting support throughout the town, online, and worldwide. "The sense of community that we had inside the Sensata plant is gone now," he said. "We took that pretty hard. But there's a lot of support for what we're doing here and now. People come out, make donations, and really get behind us; that's a really big help."
But despite the fact that they're getting the message out, he said, everything still looks uncertain for him. "I'm recently divorced, with three kids. I'm scared about how I'll support them. If they get hurt, I need to have the best health care coverage to take care of them."
"There won't be anything left in Freeport after this," he lamented. "If you want a decent job, you're gonna have to commute. I mean, if you're gonna take a job out of town, at least put in another job that's just as good or better." Walmart and other minimum wage jobs, he agreed, certainly don't fit that category.
Photo: Sensata worker Mark Schreck (pictured) is one of many at Bainport whose American job has been trashed by Mitt Romney. Blake Deppe/PW