FREEPORT, Il. - Just as MSNBC's Ed Schultz Friday program was drawing hundreds to "Bainport," a protest encampment of outsourced Sensata workers here, the company shut the plant and barred entry to its workers. Employees locked out included those on Friday's second shift and all those scheduled to work for the remainder of the weekend.
Included in the crowds that massed at Bainport in support of the workers on Friday were contingents from the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, two of the nation's largest unions in the manufacturing sector.
The 170 outsourced Sensata workers, who have camped out across the road from the plant now for 40 days and 40 nights, continue to get national attention in their effort to save their jobs by pressuring GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to use his Bain Capital connections on their behalf.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr., the veteran civil rights leader who heads the Rainbow Push Coalition, was on his way from Chicago late Monday afternoon to stand with the Freeport Workers.
"Mitt could have saved the Rev. Jackson a trip by simply picking up the phone and calling off the dogs at Bain Capital," said Zoe Bridges-Curry, a spokesperson for the Sensata workers at Bainport.
The visit by the Rev. Jackson follows by just two days an appearance at Bainport by the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader from New York, who joined crowds of protesters at Bainport on Saturday.
Among those also backing the Freeport workers on Saturday were visitors from the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. The Republic workers who visited Bainport had themselves responded to sudden layoffs by occupying their factory and by setting up a worker-owned manufacturing facility that is still operating.
Armando Robles, a Republic worker who is now president of UE, Local 1110, brought his family from Chicago to Bainport, where he discussed a variety of issues with Sensata workers, including the importance of civil disobedience as a tactic in the struggles waged by workers. There are strong parallels, he noted, between the decision of workers at his workplace to occupy the factory and the decision by Sensata workers to set up a protest encampment outside their plant.
At least three community supporters of the Sensata workers have been arrested after attempting to block trucks sent in to remove equipment form the plant.
The deep attachment workers have for the machinery they have operated for many years is a major issue in the civil disobedience at Bainport, with workers saying that the equipment being removed is much more than just property that the company is outsourcing along with its workers.
Jeff Whitson, a 12-year veteran at the plant, said he was "sole operator" of machinery at his station for the second shift for all those years. "I watched the machine being taken apart bit by bit," he said, "and you may think this is silly but, you know the footprint that a heavy machine leaves on the floor after you move it - to this day I can't bring myself to walk over that spot."
Workers also note that, not only does Romney stand to profit from the outsourcing through stock he owns in Sensata, but that his 2011 tax returns reveal that he got a huge tax break by moving Sensata stock to a charity organization he controls. The tax returns also show that he continues to profit from Bain's offshore holdings and tax avoidance strategies.
The workers tried to deliver a petition to the plant manager last Wednesday as part of their additional effort to win full and fair severance. Workers who have been at the plant for as long as 40 years are only getting 26 weeks. They say that as soon as Bain purchased their plant four years ago it slashed agreed-upon severance pay rates to their current low levels.
Photo: From the Save Our Jobs Facebook page.