Dave Sunderland, 55, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the human resources department said he violated a policy that bans shipyard workers from campaigning for a candidate at work. He said that he wasn’t campaigning for President Donald Trump but was merely wearing the hat.
“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,” he said.
When he left the meeting at Newport News Shipbuilding, his workplace, on Aug. 25, Sunderland allegedly was told by a supervisor from another division to take off the hat.
“He said, ‘You can’t wear that.’ And I said, ‘I’ve been wearing it for four years,'” Sunderland remarked.
When he refused to take it off, the supervisor spoke with the general foreman, who wrote a memo for the worker to remove the hat. Foreman Lakesha Starks said in the memo that it was against the “company policy to wear political gear” at work and he would be fired if he refused.
He refused, and Starks warned that he would be fired if he didn’t remove it. “I told him that I was going to call security to come pick him up,” Starks wrote. A security guard then escorted Sunderland out of the yard before he was fired.
Newport News Shipbuilding spokesman Duane Bourne said that employees are encouraged to participate in the political process on their own time, not at work.
“However, 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 told the Times-Dispatch. “Additionally, political messages, debates, and commentaries on candidates and related issues should not take place on company time and interfere with normal business operations.”
Sunderland said that in prior elections, he saw a number of employees wearing pro-Hillary Clinton shirts and gear in 2016 as well as gear supporting former President Barack Obama. He said that no employees have been spotted wearing pro Joe Biden gear.
“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.”