Monday, October 20, 2014

PERB Vindicates Right of Public Safety Professionals to Wear Union Insignia on Duty

In a decisive win for labor, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) overturned an administrative law judge and held firefighters at Sacramento’s airports have the right to wear Sacramento Area Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 522 union logos on duty.

The case has statewide importance for two reasons. First, the ruling means public safety professionals, such as firefighters and peace officers who were a uniform, still have the right to wear union insignia on duty. Second, firmly established that the right to wear union insignia cannot be limited to pins, but includes other apparel such as T-shirts, caps, and clothing.

In County of Sacramento (2014) PERB Decision No. 2393-M, firefighters wanted to wear union logos on the Class B uniform t-shirts, caps, and sweatshirts. Local 522 provides the apparel at cost to firefighters it represents throughout the Sacramento area. The Local 522 apparel conforms to uniform specifications and includes the union logo.

For a time, firefighters were allowed to wear the union logo apparel occasionally. In October, firefighters wore pink versions of their union logo apparel to support breast cancer awareness. There were no operational problems or complaints. Then, the County ordered the firefighters not to wear “hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts with the union logo” and announced it would discipline any firefighter who wore the union logo.

Local 522 filed an unfair practice charge with PERB, alleging the prohibition against wearing the Local 522 logo interfered with their rights under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, one of California’s public sector collective bargaining statutes. Local 522 members expressed their strong desire to support and show solidarity with their union which they had worked hard to join by wearing union apparel on duty.

The County claimed the firefighters did not have the right to wear union insignia on their Class B uniform. It claimed that since the firefighters wore public safety uniforms, the County had the right to ban union insignia since they were not part of the uniform. The County also claimed union members only have a right to wear small union pins, not other kinds of union apparel.

PERB rejected the County’s arguments and upheld the right of Local 522 members to wear the union logo. PERB held the “fundamental right to wear union insignia at work” applies equally to employees who wear public safety uniforms. PERB rejected the notion that a union member’s right to wear union insignia is limited to wearing pins, noting, “The County offers no logical argument why a protected right to wear union insignia transforms into an unprotected right because the insignia appears on clothing rather than an object that is attached to clothing.”

Thus, PERB held the County had to demonstrate there was a special circumstance justifying the restriction on wearing the union logo. The County provided no evidence of a special circumstance and the evidence showed several other agencies permit firefighters to wear union insignia at work without incident. Thus, PERB decided the County violated Local 522 members’ rights and ordered it to cease and desist and post notice of its violation of state law.

Local 522 was represented in the matter by Jeffrey R. A. Edwards, a senior associate at Mastagni Holstedt, APC.