State workers can wear anti-governor pins, judge says

DES MOINES, IA &#8211 State workers can wear pins that reflect unfavorably on Iowa’s governor, an administrative law judge has ruled.

The pins, distributed by a union that says it represents 40,000 public employees in Iowa, shows an unflattering black and white photograph of Gov. Terry Branstad’s face bisected by a red diagonal slash with the words, “NOTHING HAS CHANGED.”

The Branstad administration tried to ban the pins after employees at the state Department of Corrections’ Medical and Classification Center in Coralville, Iowa, wore them on the job.

But administrative law judge Jan Berry ruled March 31 that workers could display the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees pins on their uniforms or clothes.

Administration officials said late Friday that they consider the pins to be disparaging and may appeal the decision.

The 2011 anti-Branstad pins marks at least the third time state officials have attempted to ban AFSCME pins. The state previously demanded employees remove a pin that read “When will this s— end? Election day,” which the union acknowledged pushed the boundaries and did not challenge.

But an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor in 1998 when the state banned University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics employees’ pins that read “When will the shift end?”

Fred Scaletta, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said department officials believe that on-duty workers should not be allowed to display disparaging material about anyone in the chain of command, including the governor.

The disagreement is the latest flare-up in the governor’s tumultuous relationship with union workers and leaders.

The union says the pins were designed are in protest to Branstad’s 2011 partial veto of a budget bill that forced the state to close 36 state unemployment offices and replace them with hundreds of self-help computer kiosks.

The Iowa Supreme Court later unanimously ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional because Branstad redirected money from the unemployment offices to other spending, which the court ruled was overstepping his authority. The Iowa Legislature in 2012 passed another budget bill that kept the unemployment offices closed, giving Branstad his way on the matter.

The union said its reference to “nothing has changed” is intended to remind the public about another line-item veto Branstad made as governor 22 years ago when he fought a wage increase for union employees.

As in 2012, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the union. But the 1992 situation got uglier when the Branstad administration reduced staff — including AFSCME employees — to make money available for the union workers’ raises. The union called the move unnecessary, retaliatory and harmful to the workings of state government.

After Coralville corrections workers wore the “Nothing has changed” pins to work in 2011, a supervisor made the workers remove the pins, saying they were “disrespectful, inappropriate and unprofessional.” E-mail from the Corrections Department’s human resources director, Susie Pritchard, told the managers to “proceed with a directive” if staffers did not comply with removing the buttons.

State employees have a long-established right via state law to wear and display union insignia. But the state argued that the anti-Branstad pins didn’t expressly identify any particular union concern. The state also argued that workers must conduct themselves in a professional manner and that the pins violated that rule, according to corrections department policies.

Berry, the administrative law judge, noted in his ruling that interference with a public image or the ability to maintain discipline may outweigh employees’ right to wear certain union materials. But he rejected those arguments in this case, saying the state failed to show evidence of that problem.

“Assertions that the pin’s message interferes with the operation of the Iowa Medical and Classification Center, adversely affects discipline, decorum, public trust and the (Department of Corrections’) reputation are no substitute for evidence,” Berry wrote.

It is unknown how many of the pins were distributed although Marty Hathaway, a corrections officer at the Coralville facility and the local AFSCME president, testified in one hearing on the dispute that he handed out about 330.

Hathaway declined to comment last week and directed questions to AFSCME lawyer Mark Hedberg. Hedberg didn’t know whent the union planned to have workers wear the pins again.

“They’ve already been distributed,” Hedberg said. “The question now is if they will wear them.” The state has 20 days after Berry’s March 31 decision to appeal the latest ruling.

The Iowa Public Employment Relations Board also could — on its own — decide to review Berry’s decision. The ruling will not become final until the 20 days have expired or the three-member board has taken action on any possible appeal.

From USA Today

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