Judge rules for truck driver: Union must pay him $55,500 in 'Army Wives' case
A state judge has ruled that a Teamsters union local discriminated against a North Carolina trucker and owes the driver $55,500 in back pay for preventing him from working on the television series "Army Wives."
The Lifetime cable drama currently is filming its fifth season locally. The labor dispute arose during the show's third season, which left a makeup truck driver from Wilmington, N.C., named Thomas Troy Coghill out of work.
"Army Wives" typically uses 15 to 20 drivers daily when filming, according to a court filing. Coghill began working for the show during its second season, when many drivers with the South Carolina-based International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 509 had committed to working on the movie "The New Daughter," also shot locally.
When that film wrapped, Coghill -- who belonged to a Wilmington-based Teamsters union, the Local 391 -- remained a driver for "Army Wives." Meanwhile two returning Local 509 laborers only found part-time work on the TV show.
Local 509's business agent, L.D. Fletcher, threatened to picket, according to the court filing, unless
"Army Wives" cut all drivers who were not members of his organization.
The picket never happened, and Coghill worked the rest of the second season.
"Army Wives" transportation coordinator Lee Siler told Coghill that he should move to South Carolina and join Local 509 if he wanted to work the third season, the court filing says.
Coghill testified that he wrote and called the local -- even while in India -- but months passed without a response. Eventually, Fletcher told him the union was closed but that he would add Coghill to a "B list."
Fletcher later admitted that no such list existed, according to court documents.
The South Carolina union submitted its movie referral list to "Army Wives" for the third season, and it excluded Coghill.
"Army Wives" representatives testified that they would have hired him had his name been on the list, but they also testified to the pressures of hiring in-state residents in order to keep film incentives offered by the state of South Carolina.
The issue went before state Administrative Law Judge Michael Marchionese, who ruled that the referral list "constituted an exclusive hiring hall arrangement" and discriminated against Coghill.
Marchionese also determined that the union owed the driver about $55,500, plus interest, in back pay.
Patrick Semmens, the National Right to Work Foundation's legal information director, said union officials should not be allowed to force workers under their control in order to get or keep a job.
"In this tough economy, it is unconscionable that Teamster Local 509 union bosses would inflict such petty and disgusting discrimination on someone working to put food on the table," Semmens said.
Representatives from the local did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594.