Union workers at Lincoln Hills School in Irma protested Monday after a long-time employee was sent home by his supervisor last week for refusing to remove a shirt with a union logo.
On Thursday, employee Ron McAllister, who is president of Wisconsin State Employees Union Local 6, was ordered to remove his green shirt bearing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) logo. According to union officials, Lincoln Hills has no dress code prohibiting the wearing of any type of clothing except items that feature messages about drugs, alcohol or sex.
When McAllister refused to remove his t-shirt, he was sent home without pay.
On Friday, McAllister came to work in union garb and was again ordered to remove his union clothing, which involved multiple layers down to his underwear. Supervisors relented and said McAllister could stay for the day.
Later Friday, union officials went public with information about the incident and scheduled an informational picket for Monday to show support for McAllister. On Friday evening, the Department of Corrections, which oversees the Irma juvenile detention center, sent out a memo to staff stating that workers are allowed to wear union clothing to work. Further, the DOC said they have opened an investigation into the incident to find out where the directive against union apparel initiated.
McAllister said Monday that he doesn’t blame Lincoln Hills Superintendent Paul Westerhaus. McAllister, who has worked at Lincoln Hills for 26 years, said he has always had a good working relationship with Westerhaus, and believes the order came from higher up in Madison.
“These guys think they can push people around over things that have nothing to do with how we work,” McAllister said. “It’s degrading. It shows a complete lack of respect.”
Despite the reaction from the DOC in their favor, union workers chose to go ahead with Monday’s protest. They used the opportunity to voice their displeasure with the policies of Governor Scott Walker, who is currently facing a recall election. Wisconsin Act 10, passed last year, limits the powers of public workers’ unions and is part of the reason a recall of Walker is being sought.
AFSCME representative Troy Bauch said he sees disciplining workers over the color of their shirt as an attempt to intimidate workers.
“They are sitting around thinking of ways to bully people and it’s undermining morale, efficiency and safety in the workplace,” he said.