Former Hufcor employee lost his job of 14 years after company announced it was moving operations from Janesville to Mexico.
A former employee of Janesville’s Hufcor plant joined a labor leader and a Wisconsin congressman on Tuesday in calling out Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) for what they perceived as attacks on the state’s workforce.
Richard Hampton spoke of his experience losing his job after 14 years at Hufcor, which manufactures movable walls, announced this year that it would shift its Janesville operation to Mexico. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) and Kevin Gunlach, president of the South Central Federation of Labor, joined Hampton on the Tuesday press call.
The speakers said Johnson, who has not yet announced if he will run for a third term next year, has repeatedly supported policies that make it easier for corporations to shut down local plants and outsource the jobs, as Hufcor’s new owners did.
Hampton says that losing his job also cost him his house when he was forced to downsize to cheaper accommodations. The smaller space meant that he could no longer host the events that kept him and his work friends close. Those relationships have also dwindled.
He is looking for work, but has not yet been able to find an opportunity that offers pay comparable to his Hufcor job.
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He expressed incredulity at why Wisconsin’s Republican senator has supported the very business interests that have exported jobs out of the state.
“I don’t understand why Sen. Johnson wants to help these organizations, these companies, profit off our loss,” Hampton said.
The Private Equity Problem
Pocan related the loss of Hufcor to the practice of private equity firms buying companies and shipping their jobs overseas in the hope of generating slightly higher profit margins.
OpenGate Capital purchased Hufcor in 2017. OpenGate’s decision to move Hufcor production to Mexico cost Janesville about 160 jobs.
“This is an activity private equity firms do over and over and over again,” Pocan said before listing multiple examples from across the state and country. “And then just tearing them apart to the point that the local workers and the local communities are at a loss.”
Pocan used the call as a chance to plug his Stop Wall Street Looting Act that he says will put an end to these sorts of vulture capitalism.
Gunlach, the labor leader, highlighted the many forms of pain that can result from the loss of major employers.
The expansive list included loss of income, loss of home, diminished spending power, worker displacement, the cost of retraining, and greater burdens on local governments to provide housing and food.
“These workers that we meet are some of the most talented, some of the most dedicated, some of the most admirable workers you’ll ever meet,” Gunlach said.
Stop the Bleeding
This is not the first time Hampton has been impacted by the loss of a major Janesville employer. He said that he was previously laid off from the community’s General Motors plant. The company shut down the factory in 2008.
When asked what he wanted to see from his elected officials to help himself and his community bounce back, Hampton was focused more on stopping the economic bleeding.
“We need to keep our companies here,” Hampton said. “Janesville is a small town. We don’t have a whole lot here. But what we got, we’d like to keep.”
In a parting message, presumably intended for the multimillionaire Johnson, Hampton made an appeal on behalf of himself and others in the working class.
“Rich people already have money,” Hampton said. “They don’t need more.”
The message is unlikely to reach the Republican senator who threatened to withhold his vote for the Trump tax cuts in 2017 until the bill was amended to include more savings for companies like those owned by Johnson’s wealthy Republican donors.