My friend and Union brother sent me a picture today that made me smile. Like most CWA stewards, especially those in Local 4034, he is well-versed in his right to support his union and his and fellow employees by wearing buttons, stickers, and similar displays of solidarity. The right to do so is enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act and affirmed in countless legal cases.
The title of my post comes from the 1999 movie “Office Space” which, though nominally fiction, resonates with all corporate employees who see it. In the clip below, it is management who passive-aggressively pressures an employee to exceed the corporate policy.
Things are very different in a union shop. There, it is the employees who “wear the flair” to support their union, a union member, or even to pressure management to bargain with the union. For some employers, “flair” is regarded by management in a very different light if used to question management policies, pressure management during bargaining or even during grievances, or to call attention to unfair labor practices.
In a unionized workforce, it is almost always illegal for an employer to order an employee to stop wearing a button or otherwise show support for a union cause. In order to do so, an employer must show special, narrow circumstances on why a particular button must be banned. In most cases, including the one in which AT&T unlawfully fired me, the buttons are lawful. Their purpose is to call attention to the fact that AT&T is alleged to have discriminated against my Local union and me personally due to our vigorous representation and enforcement of our collective bargaining agreement. I know that is the purpose because that is why I bought them and asked my fellow Union sisters and brothers to hand them out: I need the support of my Union to persuade AT&T to bargain fairly in order to be made whole for my unlawful termination.
If you are wearing a button that supports your union, a union member or a union cause and a manager tells you to take it off, you should state that the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that you are allowed to wear the button. You are allowed to request clarification and a union steward; I highly recommend you do so. If a manager threatens discipline, obey and then immediately report the incident to your Local. AT&T once fought the wearing of union support buttons at work for two years before giving up!
Got pix of your Union flair? Leave’em in the comments!