Dave Sunderland said he had been wearing Donald Trump hats to work at Newport News Shipbuilding every day for nearly four years.
He wore the caps — most recently one that said “Trump 2020″ — as he walked from his car to his work site inside the gates, and sometimes for a short safety meeting at the start of his shift.
Sunderland, 55, of York County, was fired last week after refusing to remove his hat before the safety meeting. He said the human resources department told him he violated a company policy barring yard workers from “campaigning” while on the job.
“I wasn’t campaigning,” Sunderland said. “I wore a ball cap. I wasn’t passing out bumper stickers. I wasn’t asking people to vote. I wasn’t doing anything, except for wearing a ball cap going to work.”
Newport News Shipbuilding spokesman Duane Bourne said shipyard workers are strongly encouraged to participate in the political process on their own time.
“As we have previously communicated to our employees, we do not allow political campaign or partisan political activities on company property, such as wearing attire with messages that include a campaign slogan,” Bourne wrote in an email.
“Additionally, political messages, debates and commentaries on candidates and related issues should not take place on company time and interfere with normal business operations.”
The shipyard’s policy, Bourne wrote, has been in place since 2005 and is shared with employees at orientation and training. “We investigate all reported violations of our company policies, and take definitive action based on the results of such investigations,” he wrote.
The shipyard sent out a memo to workers on Tuesday telling them they must refrain from using company time and resources on any partisan activity — including campaigning, collecting contributions, or “distributing or posting any printed or written materials, signs, stickers and banners.”
Sunderland began working at the shipyard in May 2012, shortly after moving here from Ohio. At the time, he said, he noticed lots of yard workers wearing T-shirts supporting President Barack Obama, who was then up for re-election.
In 2016, he said, he saw workers wearing T-shirts in support of Hillary Clinton, such as the “I’m with Her” shirts, among others. “There’s Black Lives Matter masks that people are wearing, and nobody’s saying anything about that,” Sunderland said.
Though he hasn’t seen any workers wearing Joe Biden gear, he said, “it’s getting close to the election, and I’ll bet they’ll be there.”
“I don’t have a problem with anything anybody wears,” Sunderland said. “That’s their First Amendment right to express themselves, you know, freedom of expression. That’s their right. But when I wore something, they came down on me … They take away my freedom of expression, but they don’t for other folks.”
When a reporter noted that the shipyard is a private employer and isn’t under government free speech rules, Sunderland pointed out that the shipyard’s work is exclusively building and maintaining ships for the U.S. Navy.
Newport News Shipbuilding, an arm of Huntington Ingalls Industries, employs about 25,000 workers. It’s the nation’s only maker of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and one of two makers of nuclear submarines.
Sunderland, who worked on the shipyard’s second shift, was a pipe-fitter in the nuclear testing section. He said he wore a variety of Donald Trump caps over the years — including a “Make America Great Again” hat, a “Keep America Great” hat and the “Trump 2020″ one, among others.
“I never had a problem,” he said. “Most days I got a compliment.”[…]
The post Punishing Patriotism: Man fired for refusing to remove ‘Trump 2020’ hat at Virginia Shipyard appeared first on NewsCetera.
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