PERB Affirms Right of Uniformed Employees to Wear Union Insignia

In County of Sacramento (2014) PERB Decision No. 2393-M, the California Public Employment Relations Board (“PERB”) confirmed that on-duty uniformed public employees have the right to wear union insignia, except when the employer can prove that special circumstances justify restrictions on wearing union insignia. 

Union insignia include items such as pins, buttons, stickers, shirts with logos, etc.  PERB’s ruling reaffirms the longstanding precedent that public employees have a fundamental right to wear union insignia at work regardless of whether they wear a uniform.  Union insignia, PERB found, enable public employees to communicate with one another regarding self-organization at work.  Union insignia are also important organizing tools for unions, as the act of wearing union insignia fosters solidarity among workers and shows support for the union.

The right to wear union insignia at work, however, is not absolute.  Restrictions on the wearing of union insignia are only lawful where “special circumstances”—i.e., an operational necessity of the employer—justify the restrictions.  PERB emphasized that the employer bears a heavy burden to prove that “special circumstances” exist.  The employer must present concrete evidence that there are special circumstances; evidence of potential disruption to business operations is not sufficient.  Special circumstances do not exist simply because an employer has a uniform policy.

County of Sacramento strongly signals that PERB will not tolerate restrictions on public employees’ right to wear union insignia unless the employer can show concrete facts that justify the restrictions.  In practice, County of Sacramento means that blanket policies prohibiting union insignia violate the MMBA unless the employer can demonstrate special circumstances.  Unions should strongly scrutinize any policy that prohibits the wearing of union insignia. 

For questions regarding this case or the right to wear union insignia in general, please contact your labor law counsel. 

By Sean Graham | October 29, 2014

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