Ex-worker pickets business

November 17, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

There are big crusades, and there are little crusades.

Bill Tye's battle against Zimmerman's Home Center in Clarksville -- as important as it may be to him -- falls into the latter category.

Angry that he was not immediately rehired by the store after being out sick for a month, the 58-year-old retiree stands by himself on the side of Route 108 each day, waving his handmade "Zimmerman's are unfair" sign at passing traffic.

"I've got more time than I've got anything else, so I can keep this up forever," said Mr. Tye, a Columbia resident who began his protest Friday. "Time is on my side."

The former engineering assistant at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has made himself the talk of Clarksville, as some residents drop into Zimmerman's just to find out what's going on.

"It's a strange situation," said Gary Zimmerman, the store's manager, who said the supposed "firing" is all a misunderstanding. "Basically most of the customers ask why he's out there and are just interested. It's more of a conversation piece than anything else."

Mr. Tye took the job in May to relieve the boredom of retirement, working in the electrical and plumbing sections of the store. He was, in the words of Mr. Zimmerman, a "good employee."

In September, he caught a bronchial infection and took off the month of October to recover. When he returned to the store, Mr. Zimmerman told him that his hours had been filled by other employees, but that he would try to put him back on the work schedule.

Two weeks later, Mr. Tye still had not been given a new shift and, believing that this was the store's way of firing him, began his private little war.

"It's the principle of it. It's not anything else," said Mr. Tye, who spends about four hours a day outside the store, rain or shine. "I was sick and, when I got better, they wouldn't give me my job back. It's not fair."

Mr. Zimmerman, however, insists he eventually would have given Mr. Tye a new schedule and was waiting until he needed the extra help. But that was before Mr. Tye began picketing the store. Now, "there's no way I would rehire him," Mr. Zimmerman said.

As Mr. Tye displays his sign, some passers-by wave, others honk, and the rest just stare, because it isn't often -- if ever -- that Clarksville has its own picket.

Mr. Tye even has added a recommendation to the bottom of his sign: "Shop Kendall's." Kendall Hardware, located two buildings away, is Zimmerman's main competitor.

"We haven't really seen any change in our business," said Steve Kendall, the store's manager. "I don't like the fact that our name is on the sign, but there's nothing I can do about it."

Mr. Kendall said his biggest concern is that some customers come into his store thinking that he had hired Mr. Tye to picket as an advertising ploy.

"I've had nothing to do with it. We're competitors, but I wouldn't do this," he said.

What's next for Mr. Tye's protest isn't really clear. He pledges to continue picketing indefinitely. Mr. Zimmerman says there's nothing he can -- or will -- do to stop him, as long as the former employee stays off of the store's property.

"I'm just going to let it go," said Mr. Zimmerman, who said the picketing has not cost him any business. "I just hope he doesn't get himself sick again by standing out there in the rain."

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