WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday, officials from Bain Capital-owned Sensata Technologies threatened to shut down its north-central Illinois plant "immediately and indefinitely" if those protesting the offshoring of the facility's jobs entered the plant in an act of civil disobedience again, according to local city officials.
The plant in Freeport, Ill., which is already scheduled to close at the end of the year, has become an embarrassing campaign issue for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The factory's 170 jobs are being relocated to China. Activists and workers have called on Romney to use his influence with Bain to halt the offshoring.
There has been a steady rise in protests at the plant. Workers have set up an encampment outside the facility and dubbed it "Bainport." This week, Rev. Jesse Jackson led a march from the encampment to the plant. Arrests for civil disobedience have become routine. Last week, six were arrested when they refused to leave the facility's lobby after officials declined to meet with them and look at their petitions. City officials say the activists have been peaceful.
Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp told The Huffington Post that he met with three people from Sensata management along with the city's police officials on Tuesday to discuss the demonstrations. The Sensata officials, who had called the meeting, shared vague worries over the ongoing protests and their possible effect on worker safety, he said.
"They were adamant about not having people trespassing," Gaulrapp said. "Their concerns are the unknown: Who's coming in from outside?"
The mayor, who has supported the workers in fighting the plant's closure, added that he understood Sensata's concerns.
Freeport Police Chief Jerry Whitmore, who was at the meeting, said Sensata officials raised the plant closing threat. "They said that if protesters breached security and entered the building, including the foyer area, that the plant would close immediately and indefinitely," he recalled.
Whitmore noted that the company had the right to make that determination based on their employees' safety. "It's their property," he said. "It's their perception." But he added, "There's been no violence."
According to the chief, the Sensata officials said they would be beefing up security at the plant as well.
Sensata did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday morning, workers responded by filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the issue.
"I think [city officials] were as dumbfounded as we are," worker Tom Gaulrapp told HuffPost. "They try to make it sound like we're doing something wrong. Here we are, we're just protesting at the plant ... It's ridiculous."
Sensata's saber rattling looked like an empty gesture to Gaulrapp. "They are moving our jobs to China anyway," he said. "It's a moronic statement by them. Everything we've done has been peaceful."
More than half of the plant's workers have already been laid off. It's unclear how a shutdown would affect the remaining workers. Gaulrapp suggested that it might only affect overtime pay.
Romney has not been in charge of Bain Capital for years, but he continues to reap the benefits from tax breaks based on his Sensata investments.