Can public employees wear union logos on their uniforms?

December 30, 2014

uaw union logoSome government employers forbid the display of union insignia, logos or buttons on uniforms or clothing worn by public safety employees or other types of workers.  They argue that such displays detract from the employers’ overall mission of protecting the public, or interfere with their managerial rights to direct employees.

Does such a prohibition violate state public employment laws?  The California Public Employment Relations Board recently addressed this question, in Sacramento Area Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 522 v. County of Sacramento, 39 PERC 54 (Cal. PERB 2014)

The California board decided that a county employer violated the state’s Meyers-Milias-Brown Act by unilaterally implementing a “no union logo” policy for firefighters wearing a casual “Class B” uniform.  Absent special circumstances, the board said, firefighters maintained a statutorily protected right to wear casual uniform apparel — along with items bearing the union logo — while on duty.  “Through this form of expression, they [the firefighters] are able to demonstrate, in a visible and positive manner, their union solidarity and pride,” the board concluded.

Public employment bodies in New York, Michigan and Florida seem to agree with the California ruling.

In Police Benevolent Association of New York State Troopers, Inc. and State of New York (Division of State Police), 37 PERB 3020 (N.Y. PERB 2004), the New York Public Employment Relations Board said a state employer violated a provision of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act.  The vacated directive prohibited off-duty police personnel in civilian attire from wearing their union membership pins while assisting the defense in a criminal jury trial.

The New York board said the wearing of union insignia while off duty was protected activity, and that the unilateral implementation of the ban established new grounds for the imposition of discipline.

In Lenawee Medical Facility, 7 MPER 25036 (Mich. ERC 1994), the Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled that a medical facility unlawfully interfered with employees’ exercise of rights protected under the state Public Employment Relations Act by prohibiting employees from wearing union pins during a collective bargaining campaign.

Noting that the medical facility’s 15-year policy of prohibiting pin wearing was not enforced with respect to wearing pins during holiday celebrations and during charitable campaigns, the Michigan Commission found that enforcement of rule prohibiting employees from wearing union insignia constituted an unfair labor practice.

And in Florida, the Public Employees Relations Commission ruled in Support Personnel of Lee County v. School District of Lee County, 12 FPER 17232 (Fla. PERC 1986) that where a school district failed to demonstrate special circumstances, the district unlawfully interfered with protected rights of bus drivers by enforcing a policy that prohibited the drivers from wearing union insignia on their uniforms.