Randy Johnson is one of the many middle-class workers who were laid off by Mitt Romney’s company, Bain Capital. He has joined us in Des Moines this week to speak out against Romney's "distorted record" as a job creator. This is his story.
For nine years, Randy Johnson worked as a hanging file folder operator at an office supply plant in Marion, Indiana. In 1994, the plant was bought by American Pad and Paper (Ampad), which had been acquired by Bain Capital.
Johnson says that his union plant was the only thing that was valuable to the company—a fact that Bain/Ampad recognized, because they bought it in an asset sale, which means they bought the plant's assets but not the union contracts. They quickly fired all the employees. Ampad walked the fired workers out of the building, handing them applications as they left, telling the employees if they wanted to work for the new company, they were welcome to apply.
Johnson was hired back as a packer during the night shift. He worked for them for about two months—but as an employee of Ampad without a union contract, he no longer had a pension plan, was given reduced benefits and reduced wages, paid half for their heath insurance when they'd paid none before, and could be scheduled for a 12-hour shift. As Johnson says, "It didn't matter how much seniority you had. You would go on whatever shift they told you and whatever machine they told you."
The employees didn't take it lying down. They tried hard to negotiate a contract, and spent the two months trying to get Bain's attention through informational picketing, letters, and other tactics. Bain in turn brought in a self-proclaimed union-busting attorney named Bayoff (prounounced "buyoff"). A labor dispute began on September 1, and three weeks later, the international union told us that Bain Capital was the owner and that the CEO was a guy by the name of Mitt Romney. "That was the first time I ever heard that name," Johnson says. Romney was running for Senate against Ted Kennedy at the time—and Johnson and his co-workers spent the next several months making sure Massachusetts voters knew their story. Romney lost to Kennedy.
Right before Christmas, Ampad announced that if they weren't able to get a contract soon, it would have to close. The last, best, and final offer was rejected by union members in a 156–14 vote—the members said they couldn't work for such a company. On February 15, 1995, Johnson's plant closed.
As a last resort, Johnson wrote a personal letter to Romney. He got a response February 15, the day the plant closed saying, formal and formulaic, saying, "There's probably no one in Massachusetts who wishes more than I that Union leaders, like you, and company officials had settled their differences and that its workers still had their jobs." But as the months and years went by, it became clearer that Johnson's plant wasn't a singular case. Bain bought other facilities cheaply, ran up massive amounts of debt, and charged huge fees, closing plants and laying off hundreds of workers. Despite this, Bain Capital made more than $100 million off its dealings with Ampad.
After the plant closed, Johnson went to work as a temp for the State of Indiana helping dislocated workers—including his former co-workers. He says, "I had people the age I am now—57—who cried at my desk because they didn't have a high school education and didn't know what they were going to do. I had husbands and wives. It was probably the hardest time in my life to help these folks. You don't forget that."
Today Johnson works for United Steelworkers, helping union members avoid strikes, avoid lockouts, and negotiate a decent contract. "I'm doing the things I learned," says Johnson. "I guess I can thank Romney for that."
As someone who has experienced the effects of Romney's tenure at Bain firsthand, Johnson wants to set the record straight. After all, Romney wasn't making cars—like his dad—or even widgets. He was buying and selling companies. Romney was doing whatever it took to make money, even if it meant bankrupting companies and laying off workers. Johnson says, "I think it's a distorted record he has, talking about creating jobs. The record needs to be straight so voters can make informed decisions. He made over $100 million off bankrupting Ampad. They were in a scheme for the rich to get richer. It's perfectly legal, but is it right? That’s a fundamental problem."
Johnson adds, "We can't verify where the balance is: How many jobs did Romney create vs. how many good, industrial-type jobs did we lose? He needs to share that."