TAMPA, Fla. -- Whatever she thought she'd do with her vacation this year, Joanne Penniston didn’t expect to find herself in a parking lot-turned-encampment behind an Army-Navy surplus store, 1,200 miles from her home in Illinois, talking with left-wing activists about the outsourcing of American jobs.
But Penniston, 35, works for Sensata Technologies, a manufacturer of sensors for cars that's owned by Bain Capital -- the private equity firm that's become synonymous with GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, a founding partner. Penniston, along with roughly 170 co-workers, recently learned that her plant in Freeport, Ill., will be closed within months. The jobs of its workers will go to China.
And that's how Penniston -- who described herself as being apolitical until now -- found herself on the outskirts of the Republican National Convention, with three Sensata employees from back home holding signs like "Mitt/Bain Is Shipping My Job To China."
"I'm a single mother with two daughters, and I don’t know how I'll support my family," Penniston, a six-year Sensata veteran, told HuffPost. "I'll have to move out of state to where there are better paying jobs or go to school. I'm worried about a lot of stuff -- food, utilities, juggling bills."
Outsourcing has emerged as a major theme in the 2012 presidential campaign, with the Obama camp hammering Romney for Bain ventures that either sent or helped send U.S. jobs out of the country. The campaign theme is meant to tap into the resentment and disappointment of workers in communities where factories have closed and jobs have disappeared, laying the blame at the feet of venture capital.
At "Romneyville," an Occupy Wall Street-style activism hub in Tampa established for the RNC, Penniston was joined by colleagues Tom Gaulrapp, Cheryl Randeker and Bonnie Borman, all of whom made the trek from Illinois and expect to lose their jobs back home soon. As small-town, working-class Midwesterners, the Sensata employees looked a touch out of place among the small sea of anti-establishment, lefty protester types who'd set up tents at the encampment.
In separate interviews, none of the workers volunteered praise for President Barack Obama or attacked the GOP platform generally. Instead, they spoke passionately against Romney and Bain, lamenting the loss of what they described as some of the few remaining manufacturing jobs in their area. When pressed, they said it didn't matter that Romney hasn't actually called the shots at Bain for years. He helped found the firm and profited from it, and so they blame him for their impending job losses.
They all said they feared having to work in low-wage service jobs. Although they can take advantage of the federal government's Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps fund retraining of workers whose jobs go overseas, none said they relished the idea of launching a new career.
"It was a really good job. You don't get rich, but you can get by and make a good living, and that's what our goal is in life," said Randeker, a single mother and 33-year Sensata veteran who's been vocal in media about the plant closing. "Now I'm 52, starting over. ... If [Romney] had never started [Bain], I wouldn't be losing my job right now."
"I didn’t think I'd have to start over ... competing for minimum wages with my daughter," said Borman, a line worker with 23 years at the plant who's earning $15 an hour. "I figure it's time to stand up to people like Mitt Romney and say enough is enough. We can't keep shipping our jobs overseas or keeping the minimum wage down so that people can't survive. I feel like they're taking retirement totally away from us, making it impossible."
The workers have been seeking an audience with Romney, having made trips to campaign offices in Madison, Wis., and Davenport, Iowa, though the presumptive GOP nominee apparently hasn't warmed to the idea of a sit-down. A Romney spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Bain has not been commenting on the Sensata plant closure to the press.
The workers argued that even though Romney has no position at Bain, they believe he could wield enough influence to scuttle the plant closure. Gaulrapp called that "our miracle, that he would step in and save these jobs."
"If he wanted to call them up and say this is the wrong thing to do, he could do it," Gaulrapp said. "At this point, it would take a miracle. They're packing up our equipment."
None of the Sensata workers described themselves as staunch Democrats, and a couple of them said they were wary of being co-opted by political activists. (The workers came to Tampa with Stand Up! Chicago, a left-leaning group that's protested businesses as well as Romney.) Penniston, who described her voting record as bipartisan, said she only came to Tampa to share her experience.
"I personally have tried to maintain that I'm not affiliated with either party," Penniston said. "It's really not about Republicans or Democrats for me. It's about Americans losing their jobs, and I would vote for anyone other than Mitt Romney."
Also on HuffPost:
SEC Filings List Romney As 'Chief Executive Officer'
According to the <em><a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/articles/2012/07/12/government_documents_indicate_mitt_romney_continued_at_bain_after_date_when_he_says_he_left/" target="_hplink"><em>Boston Globe</em></a></em>, Securites and Exchange Commission documents filed by Bain Capital after February 1999 list Romney as the private equity firm's "stole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president."
The <em><a href="http://www.boston.com/news/politics/articles/2012/07/12/government_documents_indicate_mitt_romney_continued_at_bain_after_date_when_he_says_he_left/" target="_hplink">Globe</a></em> also found financial disclosure forms filed by Romney that indicate he still owned 100 percent of Bain in 2002, and earned at least $100,000 as an "executive" for the firm in 2001 and 2002.
As <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/mitt-romney-bain-departure_n_1669006.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_hplink">The Huffington Post</a> reported, sworn testimony given by Romney in 2002 undermined his claims that he left Bain in 1999. In that testimony, given as part of a hearing to determine if he had sufficient Massachusetts residency to run for governor, Romney said that he "remained on the board" of the LifeLike Co., which Bain held a stake in at the time. LifeLike's 2000 <a href="http://www.sos.state.co.us/biz/ViewImage.do?fileId=20001165127&masterFileId=19961077091" target="_hplink">corporate filing</a>, filed with the state of Colorado, lists Romney as a director.
More SEC Filings
HuffPost's Jason Cherkis and Ryan Grim identified at least <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/mitt-romney-bain-sec_n_1671819.html" target="_hplink">six documents</a> filed by Bain Capital with the SEC from 1999 to 2001 that were signed by Mitt Romney. Most of the documents refer to Romney as the "reporting person."
'Managing Member' In 2002
HuffPost <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/15/mitt-romney-bain-capital_n_1674209.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_hplink">reported</a> on a 2002 corporate document filed with the state of Massachusetts that shows Romney listed as one of two managing members of Bain Capital Investors, an entity of the private equity firm.
Signed Documents After 1999
Romney signed an SEC filing in November 1999 pursuant to Bain's partial acquisition of medical-waste firm Stericycle, <em><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mitt-romney-bain-financial-disclosure" target="_hplink">Mother Jones</a></em> reported. The filing noted that he was the "sole shareholder, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President" of the Bain entities involved in the $75 million deal.
2001 & 2002 SEC Filings
<a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2012/07/no_romney_didnt_leave_bain_in_1999.php" target="_hplink">Talking Points Memo</a> uncovered two SEC filings from July 2000 and February 2001. In both, Romney lists his "principal occupation" as "Managing Director of Bain Capital, Inc."
1999 News Reports
As Slate's <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/07/13/did_the_romney_campaign_create_the_swift_yachting_story_.html" target="_hplink">Dave Weigel</a> pointed out, Romney's campaign has cited news reports from 1999 that clearly state that Romney left Bain in 1999. However, those same news reports state that Romney would still be involved with the company. "Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions," read one such report from the <em>Boston Herald</em>
Former Partner Speaks Out
A former Bain Capital partner, Ed Conard, said during an appearance on MSNBC's "<a href="http://upwithchrishayes.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/15/12751962-former-bain-capital-partner-says-romney-was-legally-ceo-of-bain-capital-until-2002" target="_hplink">Up W/Chris Hayes</a>" that Romney was "legally" the CEO and sole owner of Bain Capital until 2002, as an ownership battle dragged on after Romney left to take over the Salt Lake City Olympics. "We had a very complicated set of negotiations that took us about two years for us to unwind. During that time a management committee ran the firm, and we could hardly get Mitt to come back to negotiate the terms of his departure because he was working so hard on the Olympics," Conard said.
Relationships With Problematic Companies
HuffPost's Sam Stein <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/mitt-romney-bain-capital_n_1677133.html" target="_hplink">reported</a> that SEC filings link Romney to politically problematic companies after his alleged 1999 departure from Bain: <blockquote>A Huffington Post review of SEC files unearthed six separate occasions in which Romney was listed as a member of "the Management Committee" of both Bain Capital Investment Partners and BCIP Trust, "deemed to share voting and dispositive power with respect to" shares held of DDi. In one of those filings, Romney is listed as president and managing director of Bain Capital, Inc. The dates of those filings range from April 14, 2000 to May 10, 2001 -- all after Romney had left for Salt Lake City. In one March 2001 filing, Romney signed the document as the "reporting person."</blockquote>
According at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/mitt-romney-bain_n_1677259.html" target="_hplink">document</a> filed with the California Secretary of State's office in July 1999, Romney was listed as a "general partner" at Bain Capital Partners. Romney's signature appears on the document. Romney remained on record as a general partner until California was notified of his resignation in June 2003.