If I weren’t convinced that the firing of Kerry Bigelow and Clyde Clark was motivated by the town’s desire to squelch unions, Id think the lesson learned from last night’s Personnel Appeals Committee hearing was this: If you work for Lance Norris, you’d better hope he doesn’t feel dissed by you; otherwise, you’re toast.

Several interesting points came to light during Clyde Clark’s appeal:

 Lance Norris made his decision to fire Bigelow and Clark – moments before the start of a meeting the two had organized to gauge interest in a union – without having read CAI’s report that the town paid handsomely for. Norris said he didn’t have access to the report until later because of “attorney-client privilege.” (CAI gave the report to town attorney Ralph Karpinos.) Yet Norris claimed to have had a number of conversations with the CAI investigator and believed he had enough information to fire Bigelow and Clark.
 Though Norris said he’d presided over at least 15 grievances, he’d never fired anyone until Bigelow and Clark. He said the complaint from the customer constituted a “serious incident,” and he felt pressured to act right away, even though he felt no similar urgency to look into the complaint originally. No one followed up on the complaint for nearly 2 months, looking into it only after Bigelow’s and Clark’s union-organizing activities became more focused.
 The CAI investigator regularly teaches classes to companies on remaining union-free.
 The incident when a sanitation worker driving a pickup truck near the Bigelow/Clark crew came to check out a commotion was drawn by the customer’s raised voice, not the crew members’. Clark disputes that the pickup truck driver was drawn by any noise, as the driver wears two hearing aids and still is hard of hearing.
 Norris claims he fired Bigelow and Clark because of “discourteous treatment of the public.” Yet that is not behavior that warrants termination, according to town policy, and the town did not follow its set procedure if supervisors believed the men were guilty of unsatisfactory job performance.
 Norris claimed he fired the men because customers felt threatened; yet the two neighbors who spoke anonymously on the phone and wouldn’t answer any follow-up questions, said their complaint was that the trash wasn’t being picked up adequately, not that they felt threatened.

Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems, and that applies to people, too. Clark tended to take full advantage of his sick days; Bigelow seemed to be disgruntled about being passed over for a promotion. Rather than fester as dissatisfied workers, though, they apparently took a proactive stance to work toward getting a union. From the information that came to light last night, it looks like their efforts cost them their jobs.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Runner

     /  February 10, 2011

    If state law does not allow unions in this type of work, then why would someone agitating for a union cause the employer to be concerned? I feel that this whole unionizing story is a ruze to hide the fact that these two employees had serious issues with their customers, their coworkers and management.

    Maybe the town did not fully document the specific instances along the way, but there is no doubt that theses men were less than ideal employees. An employer has every right to remove bad employees.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  February 10, 2011

    One correction Nancy: the CAI investigator did not teach classes on anything, including union busting. CAI offers those classes but they are not taught by anyone in their investigative division.

    It’s interesting to me that in the Bigelow hearing, the Biden incident was treated as a non-event. Rev. Bigelow and the crew leader (who was not there last night) both said any comments made were made privately between Clark and Bigelow away from the resident. But last night, if you hadn’t heard last week’s testimony, you would believe that they were fired because of the Biden incident.

    My other issue last night was the repeated use of the word “appropriate.” The two women residents, neither of whom came across as cowering and frightened, both said the men acted “inappropriately.” But no one asked them to explain what that meant. Were they implying as Rev. Bigelow said in his town appeal that the men looked at them wrong (“It’s a known fact and it has probably been deeply rooted that when you talk to, or are greeted by, a white woman, you don’t look her in the face. ….This is just something that you know as a Black male.”)? Or did their version of inappropriate mean loud (as was testified last week)? We’ll never know because neither woman had the strength of conviction to actually say what she meant, even knowing that they held these men’s future in their hands.

    Mr. Norris also used the ‘appropriate’ repeatedly. The men behaved “inappropriately” toward the residents (again, he was never asked to describe what that behavior was). They were “inappropriate” toward their “superiors.” Taking pictures to document problems was “inappropriate.”

    Language matters. In this case, very serious allegations have been made on lack of documentation and murky language. The internal town processes are broken, without a doubt.

  3. Why would a town whose residents and town council are dominated (> 60%) by those whose political leanings are left and far left be against unions? I don’t really understand that.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  February 10, 2011

    North Carolina General Statutes specifically ban collective bargaining for public employees. They can unionize, but can’t reap the primary benefit of unionization.

    § 95‑98. Contracts between units of government and labor unions, trade unions or labor organizations concerning public employees declared to be illegal.

    Any agreement, or contract, between the governing authority of any city, town, county, or other municipality, or between any agency, unit, or instrumentality thereof, or between any agency, instrumentality, or institution of the State of North Carolina, and any labor union, trade union, or labor organization, as bargaining agent for any public employees of such city, town, county or other municipality, or agency or instrumentality of government, is hereby declared to be against the public policy of the State, illegal, unlawful, void and of no effect. (1959, c. 742.)