CHARLOTTE — Employees at three companies that went bankrupt after being taken over by Bain Capital spoke at the Democratic convention on Wednesday, accusing Romney’s firm of exploiting workers for profit.
President Obama has spent months attacking Romney’s business career, which the Republican nominee has put at the top of his political resume, using stories from the companies whose laid-off workers were represented onstage.
The most dramatic tale came from Randy Johnson, a former worker at Bain-owned Ampad in the 1990s, who described how the private equity group took over the company, fired its workers, then invited them to reapply for jobs with lower benefits.
“What affected me most was having guys the age I am now come to my desk, and cry; guys who had nothing to fall back on,” Johnson said.
Ampad eventually went bankrupt. But Bain made about $100 million off the deal through management fees and the sale of its stock.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney is a bad man,” Johnson, a longtime Romney critic across multiple campaigns, told the audience. “I don’t fault him for the fact that some companies win and some companies lose. That’s a fact of life. What I fault him for is making money without a moral compass. I fault him for putting profits before people like me.”
“But that’s just Romney economics,” he said.
David Foster, a former steelworker at GST Steel in Kansas City, accused Bain of fatally damaging the company for its own gain.
“When Romney and Bain took over the mill, they loaded it up with millions in debt — and within months, they used some of that borrowed money to pay themselves millions,” Foster said. “Within a decade, the debt kept growing and was so large the company was forced into bankruptcy.”
GST’s story is more controversial. Romney claims he shouldn’t be considered responsible for it since it went under in 2001, and he says severed all day-to-day ties with the company in order to run the Olympics. But Romney’s name still appeared on numerous SEC documents from the period that referred to him as “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer and president,” which Democrats claimed was more than enough to tie him to the company’s actions.
A former worker at Bain-owned medical supply company Dade Behring, Cindy Hewitt, recounted how the firm laid off workers and loaded the company with debt. It went bankrupt in 2002, while Romney’s firm collected $242 million in profits. The company later was bought and recovered under a new name.
“When Mitt Romney talks about his business experience, remember — it is not experience creating good-paying jobs,” Hewitt said. “It is experience cutting jobs. It is experience shutting plants. It is experience making millions of dollars by making life tougher for hard-working Americans.”
Romney has argued that it’s unfair to cherry-pick businesses that failed under Bain, noting that the majority of his investments did not go under and asserting that in all cases he sought to strengthen the companies.
On Wednesday, the Romney campaign posted videos from executives and workers at some of the companies represented at the DNC defending Bain’s stewardship. The videos accuse Democrats of overlooking outside factors working against them, most notably the collapse of the American steel industry in GST’s case.
This post has been updated.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.