Don McCalister recently suffered the humiliation of being forced to remove his clothing at work because it bore the name of his union. He has worked for the State of Wisconsin for 26 years and been an AFSCME local union president for 19.
On January 5 Don came to work and found that somebody had removed the AFSCME signs in his office at the Lincoln Hills School near Irma, Wisconsin. He asked managers what happened and was told that the deputy superintendent had taken them down. He then put on an AFSCME shirt and conducted his normal work. Following, the superintendent and 4 other managers circled him and gave him an order to remove the AFSCME shirt or risk be disciplined. He refused to remove the shirt and was informed he was suspended without pay and told to leave Lincoln Hills grounds. Don then was escorted off the grounds of the school by security personnel.
He returned the next day wearing a union jacket and two AFSCME shirts. He worked for 3 hours. He was called in by 2 supervisors. He was directed to remove his clothing and he did so down to bare skin. He made a motion to remove his belt, saying he also had union underwear on and he asked if he should remove that to. Managers then took a 5 minute break and informed the superintendent of the situation. The superintendent said Don could put his clothes back on and complete the day’s work wearing his union clothing. Don decided to go home at 1PM ill. Before he left, he told the superintendent that he’d “gone to far” and that he’d violated his civil rights by making him take off his clothes.
Don said that on Friday evening he received a memo that said he could wear union garb.
He suspects the original order to force him to remove his clothes came from “the upper echelon of the department of corrections”. He said he and his local superintendent have had a good working relationship and he does not believe that the directive came from him.
As I spoke with Don this afternoon, passing cars honked in a “this is what democracy looks like” beat and about 60 picketers quietly filed up and down the school driveway holding signs.
His mother, father and brother were also there to express their support.
Don’s father also expressed anger: “He’s worked there for almost 30 years. It’s embarrassing that he was removed the way he was. This is thanks to Governor Walker.”
I asked a retired teacher why she came to picket. She said, “My reason for standing here is if we don’t take a stand at this particular point in history, there’s not going to be rights for workers. This whole thing will be said and done. That’s why”.
(I’m on the road this week. I’ll be able to process and upload video of this event when I get home this weekend.)
Find more images from the picket at my facebook page.