'Bain bus' protest a vehicle for bigger debate about workers
IT HARDLY looks like a towering threat to Mitt Romney’s election hopes. But try telling that to the occupants of this flimsy, 24-seat Ford minivan.
The “Bain bus”, which includes current and former employees of companies bought by Bain Capital, is rolling through swing states such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida to protest at the business practices and economic plans of company’s long-time chief executive, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Today, midway through its 7,500-mile journey, it is stopped at Quincy Park and a small group of about 150 people has gathered to lend support. They’re about to demonstrate outside the local Republican headquarters. The bus is emblazoned with yellow and black signs that scream: “Stop the Romney economy.”
There are employees like Libya Wilson (19), a mother of two from Pittsburg, who works for Dunkin’ Donuts. She tells of how conditions in her $8-an-hour job have deteriorated since it was taken over by the private equity firm, with unreliable hours, unpaid breaks and expanding responsibilities without pay increases.
“We were told we’d get a small raise every six months, and more if we worked beyond what was expected. That’s all changed,” she says. “How do I pay for diapers, clothes or shoes for my kids?”
There are also employees from Sensata Technologies, a profitable motor sensors firm that was bought up by Bain and is about to be relocated to China.
Tom Gaulrapp, from Freeport in Illinois, will lose his job after 23 years. He says he was earning a decent wage of up to $18 an hour, or $40,000 a year. Now, he fears scrabbling to find low-paid work.
“If all of this continues, then we won’t have any middle class left,” he says. “All that we’re left with are minimum-wage jobs with no benefits.”
Bain Capital isn’t to blame for the slew of problems facing low-paid workers in the United States. But it has become a lightning rod for much of the fear and anxiety among voters over job security, outsourcing and the good of the wider community.
In short, it has become a vehicle for a larger conversation about the state of the American worker. While a majority of jobs lost during the economic downturn in the US have been in the middle range of wages, most of those added during the recovery have been low-paying, according to a National Employment Law Project report. The disappearance of mid-wage, mid-skill jobs is part of a longer- term trend that some refer to as a hollowing out of the workforce.