U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling this week asked a company owned by Bain Capital, the Mitt Romney-founded investment company, not to close a factory in Freeport and send production to China.
Sensata Technologies, majority-owned by Bain Capital, is planning to close its Freeport plant by the end of the year with the loss of 170 jobs. Production of Sensata's automotive sensors would move to China, the company has said.
Rep. Schilling, R-Colona, and U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Rockford, sent a joint letter to Sensata CEO Thomas Wroe this week asking him to reconsider shutting the Freeport plant.
"Labor costs in China are soaring, and energy costs are driving up the cost of shipping products," they said in the letter. "We would ask that you strongly consider these factors as well as the important value of the highly skilled, highly productive workforce in the northern Illinois region that is second to none in the global economy."
Sensata was purchased by Bain from Texas Instruments in April 2006 for $3 billion. A manufacturer of sensors and controls, the company has 5,400 employees and has plants in Brazil, China, Holland, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Mexico, according to a company news release.
The former Honeywell plant in Freeport was part of a $90 million purchase by Sensata of Honeywell's First Technology Automotive and Special Products in November 2006.
Bain Capital is the private-equity firm Mr. Romney helped found and where he gained the job-creation experience he says will help him turn the economy around if he wins the November election.
But critics in the Democratic Party say Bain often bought companies cheap, saddled them with debt and cut jobs or moved them overseas. In the case of Sensata Technology in Freeport, they will see further evidence for their argument, which has been used in numerous campaign ads against Mr. Romney.
Rep. Schilling's campaign manager and son, Terry Schilling, said he was initially unaware that Sensata was owned by Bain.
"We are against sending jobs overseas," Terry Schilling said. "This isn't a decision Mitt Romney is making; it's a decision a company he invested in his making."
Mr. Romney stopped working at Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. But he retained a stake in the company and continues to earn millions of dollars from its investments, according to disclosure reports.
The Romney campaign and staff at Sensata's headquarters in Masschusetts did not return calls for comment.
Sensata workers are holding a forum on Sunday, and Rep. Schilling's Democratic opponent Cheri Bustos, of East Moline, plans to attend.
"What is happening to the hard-working people in the northern part of our district is heartbreaking," Ms. Bustos said. "In this economy, the fact that we still have companies shipping jobs to China is shameful and is a key factor as to why I'm running for Congress."
Sensata announced plans to move production overseas last year, Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp said, and plans to gradually cut jobs over the coming months. Sensata workers are aware of Bain's ownership and have held protests in Freeport to link Mr. Romney to their plight.
Mayor Gaulrapp's niece is among those expected to be laid-off from her Sensata job next week. Mayor Gaulrapp invited Mr. Romney to visit Freeport to speak to those who are losing their jobs.
"They are good people and a great workforce," Mr. Gaulrapp said. "These jobs should not be moving overseas."
Freeport is part of Rep. Manzullo's 16th Congressional District but, after the election, will be part of the 17th District because of redistricting. Rep. Manzullo was defeated in the March primary election for the new 16th District by U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Kankakee.