The state and federal lawsuits filed by or on behalf of Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow. Home addresses have been redacted for privacy reasons. The address of Roger Stancil is Chapel Hill Town Hall.
The Town of Chapel Hill’s response to the EEOC
The report from the Employment Security Commission approving unemployment benefits for Clyde Clark. The commission’s ruling disputes previous claims and overturns a previous decision denying the benefits.
The Town of Chapel Hill document outlining the basis of Clark’s and Bigelow’s termination. State law mandates that this written notification is public record.
The proposal presented by Capitol Associated Industries to the Town of Chapel Hill. The town later hired CAI to investigate recent allegations in the public works department, which, because of the timing, appear to reference the Bigelow and Clark case.
As Clyde Clark tells it, he started to turn his life around in 1998 when he got a job collecting trash for the Town of Chapel Hill. He had grown up in public housing, dropped out of high school in 11th grade and had worked service jobs all over the area. He had mopped floors at McDonald’s, served food in UNC’s Lenoir Hall and bussed tables at Franklin Street bars, but never for very long.
So when he was hired by the Chapel Hill Public Works Department, he knew he had a chance to start over. “Getting that job was like a bright light. It gave me a sense of self-worth to have a good job to go to every day and a consistent check. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me.” For the next 12 years, Clark picked up, hauled and dumped trash for the Town of Chapel Hill.
That job ended last fall when Clark and a co-worker, the Rev. Kerry Bigelow, were fired. Public Works Director Lance Norris says that they were fired for insubordination and threatening behavior toward co-workers and residents. But to Clark and Bigelow, who are African-American, the firings were retaliation for filing race discrimination grievances with town and federal officials, for speaking out on work and safety conditions in the public works department and for joining a union. They have fought unsuccessfully for almost a year to get their jobs back, and on Oct. 4 they sued the Town of Chapel Hill and Town Manager Roger Stancil for wrongful discharge and for violations of their free speech and civil rights.
Clark and Bigelow worked as collectors, menand they’re almost always menwho ride on the back of sanitation trucks, one on either side, standing on an 8-inch ledge and steadying themselves by grabbing a handlebar on a truck that can travel up to 45 miles per hour. When the truck stops, collectors jump off and haul garbage into the loader, which carries and dumps it into the crusher at the back of the truck. It is grueling and demanding work, but the hours allowed Bigelow to be home when his daughters arrived from school every day. For Clark, who has a 20-year-old son, it was the first job he ever had with benefits and a retirement plan.
But it was dangerous, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sanitation collection is one of the 10 most dangerous jobs in America, with a fatality rate of 30 per 100,000 workers. Sanitation workers risk being injured by malfunctioning equipment, which can crush them, and by cars when impatient drivers pass the trucks. They may be exposed to hazardous waste or slip and fall beneath the truck’s moving wheels. Last week, a sanitation worker in Fayetteville died after he fell off the back of a truck while it was reversing; the driver didn’t see him fall and accidentally ran over him. In the last year, sanitation workers in Louisiana, California and Massachusetts have died when the trucks they were working on backed over them; in Pennsylvania and New York, two sanitation workers were killed when they were struck by other vehicles. And in Virginia, a worker was crushed to death when trying to fix malfunctioning equipment.
During the 15 months that Clark and Bigelow rode the Chapel Hill streets together on the back of a trash truck, they wrote numerous grievances to the town over alleged safety violations. “We challenged some very dangerous practices,” says Clark. “We were trying to make a better workplace. Not just for us, but for all workers.”
An unlikely alliance
At first glance, Clark and Bigelow seem like an unlikely pair. Bigelow is a tall man with a big personality and booming voice. Words flow out of him easily; he can quote 17th-century philosophers, civil rights leaders and biblical passages all in the span of one impassioned elocution. Clark is a dapper dresser who favors sweater-vests and flat caps and has a quiet demeanor. He says he is more comfortable at home reading history and civil rights books than he is socializing with people.
Civil rights figures prominently in Clark’s family history. His late great-aunt, Rebecca Clark, led the UNC Housekeepers Association and was instrumental in procuring voting rights for African-Americans. His uncles, John Clark and A.D. Clark, were active during the civil rights movement and pivotal in the founding of A.D. Clark Pool, the first swimming pool in Chapel Hill for African-Americans. Growing up in the Craig-Gomains public housing projects in the Northside neighborhood, Clark felt the realities of segregation, but he says it was something that he was inclined to live with, as opposed to fight. “I knew that there were civil rights leaders in my family, but I never felt called to do the same,” Clark says. “As a black man in Chapel Hill, you get used to how things are.”
Clark’s first job was selling sodas at UNC football games at Kenan Stadium. He was 12, and it was the only time he and his friends would venture near the university, largely considered a white area. “We never went north of Franklin Street, not without our parents,” Clark says. “There was just a line you did not cross.” But on game days during football season, he and his friends from the neighborhood would band together and cross the campus to the stadium, where they would line up in hopes of being one of the few picked to sell sodas inside.
Clark attended Chapel Hill High School in its early years of integration but dropped out in the 11th grade. “I was lost and drinking a lot. There was a lot of hopelessness in the projects and people were self-medicating. I saw crack running through the projects like a devil station,” he says. “The basic core of the guys I grew up with were either cracked up, in jail or dead. Eventually I knew that I needed to do something with my life. I never grew up wanting to be a trash collector, but I was lucky to get this job.”
Clark met Bigelow on the back of Chapel Hill Sanitation Truck 209. Clark had been reassigned to Bigelow’s crew, and on the back of the sanitation truck, known as a rear-end loader, he got to know him. As they got to talking, they discovered that they had a lot to say about the conditions of sanitation workers in Chapel Hill. “We knew it was a dangerous and dirty job,” Bigelow says, “but we still expected respect on the job.”
A dream of driving trucks
Bigelow had always dreamed about driving big trucks. He grew up near Highway 119 in the northern part of the state and lived with the sound of big rigs whizzing by on their way to and from Virginia. “I just loved everything about those trucks and knew that was what I wanted to do.” After graduating from high school, he attended trucking school but later abandoned plans of becoming a long-distance driver in order to marry his high school sweetheart and stay closer to home. But he felt hemmed in by a series of factory jobs, so when he got a position as a sanitation truck driver for the city of Burlington, he felt he had the best of both worlds. Over the next 18 years, he raised three daughters with his wife, Angela, bought a house and saved for his children’s college education.
It was during this time that Bigelow had what he calls “an encounter with God. I started seeking and trying to understand God, because once my heart had changed, I wanted to learn, so I decided to go to divinity school. I have not been the same since.” Bigelow began attending Shaw University Divinity School at night while working full-time. He was ordained as a Baptist minister and now heads a small church in Burlington called The Lord’s House of Prayer.
In 2007, after almost two decades driving trucks for the city of Burlington, Bigelow decided to apply for a job with the Chapel Hill public works department, which he had heard offered better wages and benefits. He applied for a driving position, known as an operator, the same position he had held in Burlington. Operators are seen as a step up from collectors; they earn more, face fewer physical risks and don’t have to endure inclement weather like collectors do. Bigelow was told at the time that no operator jobs were available but that he could apply for the next position that came up. He took a collector’s job in the meantime.
At the end of 2009, after Bigelow and Clark had been working together for a few months, an operator position opened and Bigelow applied. Recruitment for the position was limited to “qualified internal applicants” and Bigelow was among them. Bigelow was confident. He had a strong application. He had the most truck-driving experience of all the applicants and had received “outstanding” reviews in his annual performance appraisals by his supervisors. According to notes from the interview for the promotion, his supervisor, Larry Stroud, said of Bigelow, “Kerry is a great person for the job. Kerry has a good attitude about the job.”
According to town documents, another applicant was a fellow collector who had begun working for the sanitation department just a few months before Bigelow. Prior to working as a collector, the man had driven a recycling truck for waste management for four and a half yearsa total of 54 months of driving trucks. Based on his level of experience, the man’s starting hourly wage was $12.75$26,528 annuallyand one of the lowest wages for collectors. Bigelow, however, started at the top of the pay scale, $14.43 per hour, or $30,000 per year. The higher pay rate was explained in an internal memo that cited Bigelow’s 18 years of operating heavy equipment for solid waste departments and his certificate from heavy-truck driving school, described as an asset to the department. In total, Bigelow had 216 months’ experience driving trucks.
The other applicant, who was white, got the promotion. Bigelow was surprised, and when he asked why he had been passed over, he got no answer. On Feb. 12, 2010, Bigelow filed a race discrimination grievance with the department, citing his superior experience, time on the job and the stellar reviews he had received from his supervisors.
Bigelow had never filed a grievance before, but a few weeks prior, he had met some Chapel Hill Transit workers who told him about the grievance process. When Bigelow didn’t get the job, he knew how to redress the situation. “I wanted to know how they could justify giving that job to someone with significantly less driving and work experience,” Bigelow says.
Bigelow received no response from the town. Three weeks later he filed another grievance, and still he got no answer. However, he did have a meeting with Frances Russell, Assistant Director of the Human Resource Development Department, who informed him that his grievance would be investigated as a serious incident. Several months later, Norris, the public works director, told him the same thing. According to town policy, serious incidents require a “prompt and thorough investigation,” yet it would be another five months before Bigelow got any formal town response about the complaint.
Meanwhile, emboldened by the experience of filing a grievance, Bigelow told Clark about the process, and they realized that they had a mechanism by which to raise their concerns. “I never knew anything about the grievance process,” Clark says. “They never had a meeting to say, this is what you do if you disagree with something. I would have filed grievances a long time ago if I had known about the process.”
Over the next few months, Clark and Bigelow started reading up on their rights and began filing grievances for what they perceived as workplace-safety violations, unfair department practices and an overall culture of hostility in the public works department. Some of them were claims of racial bias, but the majority concerned safety violations that they thought should be fixed: They wanted trees cut back on narrow streets so they would not whip collectors’ faces; they thought that the rear-end loaders were too big and dangerous on some of the small streets, forcing drivers to make unsafe turns and reversals; they thought the smaller trucks, called scooters, should drive the smaller streets. They also alleged in a grievance that the driver of their truck, the de facto crew leader, at times drove dangerously, which could harm them. These alleged driving practices included parking the truck in the middle of busy four-lane boulevards, forcing the collectors to drag bins across 40 mph traffic and driving in reverse while they were on the truck, in violation of American National Standards Institute and town policy.
Becoming union men
One day in March, a month after he had filed his initial grievance, Bigelow encountered union organizers with the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150, outside the public works department. The organizers were inviting workers to a meeting to learn about their rights. Bigelow and Clark attended that meeting and decided to join the union. Soon Clark and Bigelow were holding weekly meetings at the department; other workers started attending, including some from the transit department. Bigelow and Clark became the guys to go to if anyone needed help filing a grievance.
They began posting information about the union and announcing meetings on the employee bulletin board in the break room. When the new budget came before the Town Council, they spoke out about the significant increases to their health care co-pays and the lack of funds available for new equipment to address safety concerns.
According to Clark, when they started writing grievances and talking about the union, the work environment changed almost immediately. As alleged in several of his grievances, one of his supervisors began making threatening and hostile comments. One grievance says the supervisor clearly blames them: “… me and Bigelow were messing up everything for the guys” and that everyone “would probably end up working 10 hours a day, and that they were angry.”
“The department has a history of being anti-union,” says a town employee who did not want to be identified. “Clyde and Kerry were very vocal about what they were trying to do. The town says that the official policy is that employees have a right to join a union. But people know how management works and the dirt they do. People have very little trust in management but are scared to say something, because they might lose their jobs.”
Bigelow also felt the atmosphere change after they began attending union meetings. “We knew the supervisors did not like what we were doing. They made that clear,” says Bigelow. “There is a very hostile culture against union organizing guys in general did not want to rock the boat and risk their jobs. You’re a troublemaker when you try to challenge the department. But when we started going up against the town, we needed some stronger power behind us. When we joined the union, they helped us fine-tune our grievances and got us information we needed. I did not start as a union man, but I became one.”
Enter the investigators
On March 24, shortly after Clark and Bigelow began speaking up, the town signed a contract with Capitol Associated Industries (CAI) “to uncover and fully understand circumstances related to recent allegations in the Public Works Department.” Although not specifically named, the timing of the contract suggests that “the allegations” were Bigelow and Clark’s grievances. For this, the town paid CAI investigator Kevin von der Lippe $200 an hour.
According to documents provided by the Town of Chapel Hill, Town Manager Roger Stancil hired CAI because it “was better to have a neutral third-party to conduct the investigation.” However, CAI is far from neutral when it comes to employee/ employer relations. CAI is a nonprofit organization that offers “human resources” consultation to North Carolina businesses. It is also an organization opposed to unions and collective bargaining. According to information from its website, CAI advertises services that prevent municipal workers from unionizing and offers classes to employers such as “Staying Union Free,” which trains employers in creating “a work environment that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a union organizer to mount an effective campaign.” One of the top issues for its political lobbying arm, the Employers’ Coalition of North Carolina, is to ensure that public employees are not given collective-bargaining rights.
Between April 2009 and October 2010, town documents show Chapel Hill paid $27,248 for CAI services, $5,860 of which went toward the investigation of Clark and Bigelow.
By June 2010four months since his race-discrimination claimBigelow had still not received a response from the town regarding his initial grievance. So he decided to take his case a step further and filed a race-discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Occupation Commission (EEOC), the federal agency in charge of discrimination claims.
The following day, the town sent a memo to Bigelow signed by Valerie Meicher, human resource development director. The memo thanked Bigelow “for participating in the recent selection interviews” (although they had taken place five months earlier). The memo went on to state that after personally reviewing the process, she determined there “were inconsistencies in the administration of the interview process.” As a result, the department was invalidating that hiring process and initiating a new one, inviting Bigelow to interview again. There was no mention of Bigelow’s race-discrimination grievance or the EEOC complaint made a day earlier.
Several months later, the town conducted new interviews, including one with Bigelow. The position went to an African-American candidate who had also applied in the first round.
At the end of July, Meicher responded to the EEOC regarding Bigelow’s complaint, asserting that race was not a factor when the department selected a less qualified candidate. Her response also suggested that the public works department could not have discriminated against Bigelow or other African-Americans in the department because it employed many African-Americans. She conceded that there had been discrepancies in the way the interviews were handled but that there was no discrimination.
What is most puzzling is that the letter seems to contradict itself. At one point Meicher concludes that Bigelow “did not meet the minimum qualifications for the position.” In another section, however, she states that recruitment for the position was limited to “qualified internal applicants” and that “after an initial screening process, five applications were accepted.” Bigelow was one of those applicants and went through both the initial screening and the oral interview portion of the selection process. The question is: If Bigelow was not even qualified for the position, why was he accepted as a “qualified internal applicant” and moved through the entire interview process?
The Sandy Creek incident
The route of Truck 209 took Clark and Bigelow through some of Chapel Hill’s oldest and most beautiful neighborhoods. On the morning of July 22, 2010, they were on Sandy Creek Trail, in the Greenwood neighborhood, where it was a yard-waste pickup day. A woman resident asked if they could pick up more yard waste than usual because Vice President Joe Biden was coming to a fundraiser down the street the next day. According to the woman, who is white, Bigelow responded by commenting that Biden was not coming “to see the common man.” Later that morning the woman called the sanitation department saying that she was “not trying to have a political debate with her trash collectors” and that she “felt threatened” by Bigelow’s comment when she asked him to pick up the extra yard waste.
In response, Public Works Operation Manager Richard Terrell visited Sandy Creek Trail and found that the brush had been correctly picked up. In a memo to his supervisors, including Public Works Director Norris, regarding the “inappropriate language/ remarks in the presence of a citizen,” Terrell said the town could provide “counseling, oral or written warning, if deemed appropriate.” The town did neither of these things, nor were Clark and Bigelow informed that a complaint had been lodged against them.
Two months later, in September, the town received an email from what appears to be the same resident, this time complaining that the waste was not being picked up properly and that, in fact, the crew was intentionally “leaving as much debris on the street as possible.”
This time, the town dispatched the CAI investigator to follow up, initiating an investigation that on paper was intended to look into Bigelow and Clark’s grievances but that now appeared to be directed at investigating them. On Sept. 20, less than two weeks later, the town informed Clark and Bigelow that they were being suspended while the officials investigated several complaints about their behavior, and they were told to stay off town property. There were no written or specific charges against them.
On Oct. 13, CAI investigator von der Lippe submitted a report on his investigation to Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos. The report, and later the terminations, predominantly hinged on the complaints of the Sandy Creek resident and a neighbor who was with her, both of whom said they felt threatened by Clark and Bigelow. Von der Lippe also met with co-workers of Clark and Bigelow, and their comments were also included in the report. In the document it is clear that several of their co-workers do not like Clark and Bigelow. They are described by these co-workers as being loud and complaining, and of keeping things “stirred all the time,” but none of them said they had ever witnessed Clark and Bigelow acting disrespectfully toward residents.
According to the Chapel Hill Code of Ordinance 14-105, the town is required to do several things when performance issues arise: It is first required to provide one or more counseling sessions to discuss the specific performance issue. If employee performance does not improve, a written warning must be given, and if there is still no improvement, another written warning should be given stating that unless the behavior is corrected immediately, the employee can be fired.
In the case of Clark and Bigelow, this procedure was not followed. Instead, two months after the alleged incident, they were fired for “insubordination” and “hostility” toward residents and co-workers. According to their termination notices, their “threatening and intimidating behavior caused some residents to fear for their personal safety.” It was the first time, they said, that the town alerted them to the specific charges against them. Clark and Bigelow were never given an opportunity to respond to any of these claims, nor was the woman who made the initial allegation ever publicly identified.
“When we were called into the office, we thought that they were finally going to address our grievances. We did not expect to be fired,” Clark says.
Suing the town
In an official statement, the town explained that Bigelow and Clark’s behavior was so egregious that it constituted Detrimental Personal Conduct, for which the town may fire them after just one occurrence. The behaviors defined in the ordinance as Detrimental Personal Conduct include fraud, misuse of town funds, destruction of property, endangering the lives and property of others, falsification of records, possessing a firearm on the job and brutality or threats or intimidating behavior.
“When it comes to issues around personnel, the final say is the town manager,” says Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt about the system of governance used by Chapel Hill, referring to Roger Stancil. “The system we have is one to protect a wide array of personal conflicts. Internal systems tend to do their jobs.” Town Manager Stancil declined to comment on the case.
But according to worker-rights advocates, the campaign waged by Bigelow and Clark is just another chapter in what has been a long struggle for better wages, improved working conditions and collective bargaining rights for public employees in North Carolina. Chapel Hill public employees, like all public-service workers in North Carolina, have no collective bargaining rights, which means that unions cannot represent workers in negotiations with their employers over wage increases, working and safety conditions, and other aspects of their employment.
“This is what it looks like to not have collective bargaining rights,” says Laurel Ashton, a member of UNC’s Student Action with Workers. “Had Kerry and Clyde had collective bargaining rights, the town would have been forced to be more accountable to their own policies and procedures. Without them, the town can act without scrutiny.”
“We believe that Rev. Bigelow and Mr. Clark were fired because they challenged the long history of racism and unsafe work conditions in the public works department,” said Michelle Cotton Laws, then president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP.
“And even worse,” continued Laws, “the town wove a carefully constructed story about two loud and aggressive sanitation workers threatening the affluent women on their route, casting itself as protector. They played an egregious race card by using an inflammatory issue that they knew would gain traction in the media. They pulled out the old black boogeyman and played up the women’s fear of the two men.”
After they were fired, Clark and Bigelow immediately filed an appeal, which was denied. They then took the last step in the town’s appeals process and applied to be heard by the town’s Personnel Appeals Committee (PAC), which is made up of members of the community appointed by the town council, who hear cases and make recommendations to the town manager.
Days before the hearing took place, Bigelow and Clark received word from the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina that they were going to receive unemployment benefits. They had initially been disqualified because they had been fired for “misconduct.” But they appealed that decision, and after conducting an investigation, the employment commission reversed itself, stating the claimants were “not rude, confrontational or insubordinate … did not engage in threatening and intimidating behavior directed at residents … and did not refuse to perform job duties.” It was the first time anyone in an official capacity had supported their version of events.
As the hearings approached, Bigelow and Clark felt optimistic. “We went into the appeals hearings with confidence, both because our case was strong and because the employment commission confirmed that Kerry and Clyde had not engaged in misconduct that warranted being fired,” said Al McSurely, the NAACP lawyer representing the pair.
During the February hearings, the committee members heard from supervisors in the public works chain of command, including James Jones, the driver of the truck they worked on and one of the persons they had filed grievances about. Jones recounted an incident in which Bigelow used a rude voice in complaining to his supervisors that he needed water, but said that he never saw Bigelow acting inappropriate to any residents. No resident came forward to publicly testify against the men, but the town did allow two women, presumably the Sandy Creek neighbors who had made the original complaints, to make statements over the telephone. They were never publicly identified and refused to take any questions from McSurely or members of the committee. “The town went to great lengths to have their voices piped in to convince the majority of the hearing panel that the two black collectors scared the women,” said McSurely.
At an interesting moment in the hearings, the town’s Senior Legal Advisor, Tiffanie Sneed, asked Norris if he was aware of the EEOC grievance filed by Bigelow. Twice Norris answered no. Considering that a significant portion of Bigelow’s EEOC grievance was directly related to the conditions of the department Norris led, his apparent lack of knowledge of the complaint casts doubt on the town’s position that it takes employee concerns seriously and seems to support Bigelow’s contention that his race discrimination claim was trivialized.
Also worth noting is some of the appeal-committee members’ reactions to town procedures. Although the committee ultimately upheld the terminations, some of the members consistently expressed that the actions the town described sounded more like “unsatisfactory job performance” than an “egregious act” that was grounds for immediate termination. In the end, by votes of 3-2 (Bigelow) and 5-1 (Clark) the appeals committee upheld the terminations.
The appeals process also revealed a troubling pattern. As in the children’s game of telephone, the description of the Sandy Creek incident changed each time the story was told, culminating in Norris asserting at the hearing that in all of his time with the town, he had never seen such egregious behavior.
According to an internal town email written by the administrative assistant who took the initial call, the Sandy Creek woman said that her “biggest complaint was that she ‘felt threatened.’”
During the appeals hearing, the woman (anonymously) described the incident as the men being “rude and dismissive.” In Bigelow’s termination letter, however, Norris described the interaction as confrontational, that Bigelow was “standing in close proximity to the property owner’s face” and that Bigelow “made loud, rude and inappropriate statements.”
In his report to the town, CAI’s von der Lippe describes the woman as being so scared that “on collection days she stays inside and looks through the blinds to make sure the truck has left before she goes outside”an assertion the woman refuted at the hearing.
At a town council meeting following the appeals hearings, Chapel Hill Town Council Member Jim Ward said, “I sat through five-plus hours of the first appeals board meeting. I sat through all but the first hour of the second one, and I am troubled by what I learned and what I heard … I think the outcome was wrong. I think the system has worked poorly.”
“This case has raised extremely troubling issues about Chapel Hill and its commitment to racial and civil justice,” says Lori Hoyt, a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the NAACP. “The public works department and town manager have acquiesced to systemic racism by not examining their own practices and refusing to confront the concerns of black and low-wage workers and by punishing them for daring to raise them. This undermines all that it might otherwise do towards promoting racial tolerance.”
What does the future hold?
The corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Estes Drive is a busy intersection on an incline, with two lanes of traffic going in both directions. On this Tuesday morning, almost a year and a half since Clark and Bigelow began their campaign for safer and more just working conditions, Bigelow has driven by car to his old route to see the trucks he used to ride in action. He watches the familiar orange Chapel Hill sanitation truck begin its first pass down the boulevard in the bright haze of early morning. There are two men in neon-green florescent vests hanging on to the back bars, but still the truck travels surprisingly fast. The truck stops and starts as it makes its way through the residential streets, the two men jumping off and hauling the trash into the loader before leaping back on. Impatient drivers maneuver around the truck, which sometimes travels on streets so narrow and windy it seems to only squeeze by. Bigelow shakes his head as the truck reverses with the two men hanging off the side bars, a practice, he says, that violates town policy and was one of his grievances.
“What gets me,” says Bigelow as he watches the truck pass, “is that after all this, some of the basic hazards of the job haven’t been addressed.”
But their efforts did raise some safety awareness and, in a few cases, some improvements in the sanitation department. Based on their grievances, internal reviews were conducted by Ron Aiken, the town’s occupational safety and health officer, who confirmed some of the hazards Clark and Bigelow had raised and recommended that the issues be given serious attention. In an internal draft memo from Aiken to Norris, Aiken states that the practice of truck reversals on certain streets “should be seriously reviewed.” He also supported their contention that smaller trucks should be used on narrow streets, stating that it “is something that should be considered seriously” and that he thought it was a “very good solution to this safety concern.” He also reaffirmed town policy that says that reversals “with collectors on the rear step of the truck will result in discharge.” While it is unclear whether the department has addressed any of these safety suggestions, it has pruned back vegetation and overhanging limbs and directed drivers to end the practice of making collectors cross busy streets.
In January 2012, Clark and Bigelow’s unemployment checks will run out. Bigelow is starting his own business, but for Clark the future is still unclear. They have filed two lawsuits. The first is a civil lawsuit filed in state court against the Town of Chapel Hill and Town Manager Roger Stancil, which asks that the town reinstate Clark and Bigelow and provide them back pay from the date of termination. The second is a federal suit filed by Bigelow against Stancil and several other defendants for race discrimination and wrongful discharge. Nonetheless, they want their jobs back. They also say that they would do it all over again. In the months since they lost their appeal, Clark and Bigelow have tried to remain upbeat. They say they have both been enlivened by the experience of standing up for their rights. “I was willing to sit in silence before,” says Clark, “but not anymore.”
“We went from the back of a garbage truck, to learning our rights, to becoming the ‘Sanitation Two’,” says Bigelow, referring to the moniker their supporters have given them. “I’ve got a wife and three kids and just bought a house in 2000, but I am not worried a bit, because I know that what I am doing is right. I might not be hauling garbage right now, but I am still on the job, trying to get folks to understand what is really going on here. You are only as free as you are allowed to be, but I am free now, Clyde is free. We are free for standing up for the truth.”