Judge: USPS Workers Can Hang Political Posters

October 18, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Even though federal employees are limited in the amount of workplace political activity they can have, they can still display political posters on union bulletin boards, a federal judge has ruled.

A New York Law Journal article reported that US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that US Postal Service workers had the constitutional right under the First Amendment to put up posters about the 2000 presidential election.

According to Hellerstein, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) could “advocate the election of candidates through display of posters and like materials on designated union bulletin boards in non-public areas of post offices, so long as the display is not coordinated with or in concert with a political party or candidate.”

Hellerstein’s ruling prohibited the Postal Service from taking down the union displays and said postal officials could not discipline workers who refused orders to dismantle the displays.

Posters: Gore versus Bush on the Issues

The posters in question, created by the union and mailed to about 27,000 members during the 2000 elections, compared the positions and voting records of Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush.

Although the posters did not recommend either presidential candidate, Hellerstein wrote, they suggested that Gore held positions more favorable to the postal workers and their union, the Law Journal article said.

The Postal Service had been fighting the posters since October 2000 because officials claimed they violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition from political activity in a government work place.

The postal workers union sued and won a temporary injunction from Hellerstein. In his latest ruling, Hellerstein said that the Hatch Act not only didn’t prohibit the posters, it had previously been interpreted as supporting them.

Hellerstein noted that not all political activity is forbidden by the Hatch Act. Federal employees may, he wrote, express their opinions on political candidates or subjects, serve as officers of a political party, manage a campaign and make contributions to candidates.

But while they are on duty, he said, they may not attend political events, stuff envelopes for a candidate, or display buttons, signs or badges.