Two Appeals Courts Rule for Workers in Uniform Union Logo Cases

February 21, 2005 ( - Two federal appeals courts have sided with employees in legal disputes over whether employers can regulate - mandate or prohibit - the wearing of a union symbol on a worker's uniform.

>The first case,   out of the US 4 th Circuit Court of Appeals, concerned two BellSouth employees who were required to wear both the company logo and the logo of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) on their uniform. The mandate covered certain phone company workers with public contact, was in effect regardless of whether the employees were union members and carried potential discipline if it was violated.

>According to the opinion written by Circuit Judge H. Emory Widener, Jr., the company had a specific intent by instituting the requirement. “BellSouth’s policy was designed to present a professional image to their customers and the general public and the company considered a uniform policy to be ‘a critical aspect of its strategy to succeed in a new competitive environment’,” Widener wrote. “BellSouth asserts that the display of the union logo on the uniforms signifies a labor-management partnership which makes service interruptions due to labor disputes less likely and represents that the employees are well trained, well paid and more experienced with a stable work environment.”

>Plaintiffs Gary Lee and Jim Amburn – both non-union members – filed unfair labor practice charges against the company and the CWA with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which threw out the complaints and Lee and Amburn appealed.

>Widener’s ruling said the appeals judges rejected the notion that the logo requirements served a justifiable purpose and asserted that the forced union logo display does violate workers’ rights under federal labor law.

“There is no evidence that the display of the union insignia conveys BellSouth’s intended message,” Widener wrote. ” In fact, rather than view the union logo as representing a labor-management partnership which makes labor disputes less likely and a reflection of a stable work environment, the public may view the union logo with suspicion and associate it with service disruptions and labor disputes. Furthermore, it is entirely reasonable that a person viewing an employee wearing a union insignia would assume that the employee is a union member and supports the union.”

>Because the phone company presented no proof that its stated intention about the logos adding to its corporate reputation had any basis in fact, the appeals judges ruled that the CWA and the phone company could not require the union logo to be worn.

>The ruling in the 4 th Circuit case, Lee v NLRB, is  here.

‘Union Yes’

The second case, an appeal to the US 5 th Circuit Court of Appeals out of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, involved the disciplining of carpenter Urbano Herrera by his employer Ector County Hospital over Herrera’s wearing of a “Union Yes” button. Herrera was also a volunteer CWA organizer.

In an opinion written by Circuit JudgeJacques Wiener Jr., a split two to one panel agreed with the lower court judge who had ruled for Herrera that the button ban violated his free speech rights and rejected arguments by the hospital that it was necessary to maintain the proper image with the public.

“The wearing of a pin by a carpenter and other Integrated Services employees, who are merely seen by, but do not interact extensively with members of the public, cannot be seriously said to undermine 1) the public’s perception of neutrality and impartiality among the hospital’s professional and quasi-professional medical and administrative staff, or 2) the espirit de corps among these kind of employees,” Wiener wrote.

The majority concluded that the hospital had violated Herrera’s rights as a matter of official policy and that the communication on the button in the context of a union organizing drive did constitute free speech.

The 5 th Circuit ruling, Communications Workers v Ector County Hospital District, is  here .