FORREST CITY ADMITS UNION-BUSTING
RETALIATION AND DISCRIMINATION SUIT BROUGHT BY AFSCME LOCAL 2373 PRESIDENT
Since November of 2008, Roy Hamilton has been a heavy equipment operator for Forrest City, Arkansas. He was also active in the union, and is currently the elected president of AFSCME Local 2373, representing members employed by Forrest City's Department of Public Works.
In late 2013, shortly after payroll deduction cards were presented by the Union to the city, the Mayor called a meeting of the Public Works Department. During this meeting, the Mayor informed employees of their "at will" status, asked them to withdraw their authorization for payroll deduction of their Union dues, and stated the Union could not stop him from firing anybody.
To underscore this anti-union stance, the Mayor moved to reduce Mr. Hamilton's duties, dropping his pay from $11.90/hour to $10.00. Mr. Hamilton subsequently requested a meeting with the City Council, asking his pay be restored. The Council approved this, but the Mayor vetoed the restoration, offering various pretexts for doing so. When the Council failed to override this veto, Mr. Hamilton was left facing job pressure, a retaliatory pay cut, and significant reduction in his work responsibilities. These actions were all clearly intended to punish, intimidate, and undermine Hamilton, the Union, and its collective membership.
Left with no alternative but to fight, Mr. Hamilton, filed suit in Federal court with the support and assistance of the Union and AFSCME Council 38 Executive Director and General Counsel Jim Nickels, Mr. Hamilton’s law suit was against the City, the Mayor, and certain council member in US District Court. The suit complained of:
Acts taken in retaliation for the exercise of Hamilton's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of free association under the US Constitution; and,
Violations of his rights under color of law, including customs, policies, and practices of the City; and,
Violation of his civil and workplace rights secured by Arkansas' statutes; and,
Violation of his Amendment 34 rights under the Ark. Constitution protecting union activity; and,
Acts taken in retaliation for his exercise of Federal rights to grieve discriminatory workplace practices.
This suit has been resolved on an offer of judgment, under which the action will be dismissed against all defendants. Mr. Hamilton will be compensated for lost wages, non-wage damages, attorneys’ fees and costs. His salary will be set at almost three dollars an hour more than what he was making when the discrimination began, and he will be free to apply for any work with the City he is qualified to perform. The City pledges not to retaliate against him as well. The City presented Mr. Hamilton with two options to settle this suit, one was to essentially sweep under the rug on how he was treated by his employer of 8 years and dismiss the case for a larger amount of money; or, he could take less in order for them to agree to language in the offer of judgment tacitly acknowledging he was a victim of retaliation and protecting him from any further act of retaliation. The larger monetary settlement would have left no proof the City had engaged in wrong doing. By taking the lesser amount, Mr. Hamilton has gained important ground for others and for our Union, as any subsequent wrong-doing by the City can be addressed in light of prior history.
“It’s not about the money it’s about treating people fairly" said Mr. Hamilton, "I work hard for Forest City as a heavy equipment operator and treat people fairly – I should expect the same from my mayor and city council.”
This is the true spirit of trade unionism, and shows the power of organized labor in Arkansas to protect workers’ rights and effect needed change in the workplace. Mr. Hamilton could have run with the money as they say, but he recognized the value his contribution would have in putting a stop to future abuses. He gave thought to those who might come after him. He has wisely chosen the victory which denied the City cover to continue union-busting practices. They will have to treat their workers with the dignity every working person deserves, or face the consequences ongoing.
When we work together like this anything is possible.