Wearing Union Pins Off Duty Is A Protected Activity

Several years ago, a number of members of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers (PBA) wore a small union pin on their lapels during the criminal trial of a former state trooper who was acquitted. No objection was voiced by either the judge or the prosecuting attorney to the fact that the troopers, who were off duty and dressed in civilian attire, wore the pin while in the courtroom. Subsequent to the trial, however, the district attorney complained of it.

The New York State Police responded by issuing a directive prohibiting its members from wearing union insignia while assisting the defense in any criminal jury trial. The PBA responded with an “improper practices charge” filed with New York’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), alleging that the wearing of the union pins was protected activity under New York’s Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act.

A court in New York’s Appellate Division upheld PERB’s order that the wearing of the union pins was a protected activity. The Court concluded that PERB “rationally concluded that the wearing of the union insignia under these circumstances is a protected right included within the right to form, join and participate in any employee organization.”

The State argued that special circumstances existed warranting a prohibition against the wearing of the union pins because the directive only applied to criminal trials. The Court was unconvinced, holding that “insufficient evidence was provided to support the State’s justification for the directive, mainly, that the working relationship between the State Police and district attorney offices will be adversely affected if PBA members are permitted to wear insignia under these circumstances.”

State of New York v. Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers, 2005 WL 3676671 (N.Y.A.D. 2006).

This article appears in the March 2006 issue