Sikh MTA Workers Say, “Don’t Brand Our Religion!”

Things are heating up as Sikh transit workers organize against the MTA’s requirement that Sikh workers wear an MTA logo on their turbans. The rationale? The MTA’s position is that this policy is necessary for customers to identify their employees. However, neither the NY City Council, nor the U.S. Department of Justice, is buying this baloney. The 27 of the City Council’s 51 members recently voted to sign onto a letter to the MTA President, opposing the policy, and the Department of Justice has revived an employment discrimination case against the MTA.

There are, of course, many ways that customers can identify MTA workers, from the badges they may wear, to a uniform vest, to a standard outfit. So why attempt to brand the turban, specifically? This policy shift, along with previous failed attempts, is indicative of the MTA’s general hostility to religious inclusion and work staff diversity.

This is the third time the MTA has been on the wrong side of this issue. It began in early 2000, with a move to bar employees from wearing turbans and hijabs. It lost that lawsuit, and a follow up. Now, after attempting to settle the case over the ban on religious clothing, they have come up with a policy that is equally problematic and non-uniformly applied (for example, a 2005 U.S. Department of Justice survey found over 100 MTA workers wore unbranded yarmulkes and Yankee hats).

The MTA’s position on religious clothing has remained problematic for at least five years, which raises the question: Is the MTA interested — at any level — in meeting its Constitutional requirements and ensuring a non-discriminatory workplace? It seems like their position has been to raise one bigoted proposal after another. To what extent is this rooted in a faulty decision-making process (i.e., not even consulting the impacted employees to see if a suggested policy would work), and how much is rooted in animus? A part of me wonders how an entity that operates in the most diverse city in America is capable of such blantantly intolerant policies. A bigger part of me wonders, however, if they even care.

Some say that the only resolution, given the MTA’s history of failed attempts, is a legislative one. It’s unfortunate precendent, however, that the MTA’s continued refusal to meet the spirit of the settlement has resulted in an extremely underrepresented minority being forced to seek relief from legislative bodies. Not only does it create a really onerous burden for the transit workers, it also wastes an incredible amount of taxpayer money.

This case isn’t over, and it’s likely that whatever comes next will not be the end of this battle. The MTA has a decision to make: will it continue to embrace a flawed and bigoted employment plan, or will it begin to assess new ways to ensure inclusion?


bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark bookmark
tabs-top


14 Responses to “Sikh MTA Workers Say, “Don’t Brand Our Religion!””

  1. […] The Langar Hall, a blog for all things Sikh, posts on another discrimination case – New York City MTA workers fighting against having to pin MTA insigia to their […]

  2. justasikh says:

    I can understand their concerns, does this apply to army outfits and police outfits too?

    Where are the protests then? I'm okay with people having a position on this, but why isn't it consistent?

  3. justasikh says:

    I can understand their concerns, does this apply to army outfits and police outfits too?

    Where are the protests then? I’m okay with people having a position on this, but why isn’t it consistent?

  4. Singh says:

    I agree with justasikh on this one. Aside from the fact that the MTA sounds childish – what makes thier request that Sikhs wear a logo differnent from the empblems worn by the armed forces.

    Is it the prestige factor?

  5. Singh says:

    I agree with justasikh on this one. Aside from the fact that the MTA sounds childish – what makes thier request that Sikhs wear a logo differnent from the empblems worn by the armed forces.

    Is it the prestige factor?

  6. Camille says:

    I'm pretty sure Sikhs do not wear emblems on their paghs/dastars in the U.S. Armed Forces (particularly in light of the Army's ban on "religious headgeear"), but if I'm wrong could someone correct me?

    I think it's also important to separate out these different groups. While it's true, from an advocacy (and otherwise) standpoint we should be consistent, lack of consistency should not undermine a real problem for those Sikhs who work for the MTA. I don't think it's a prestige factor, but there is a fundamental difference in how we organize/treat civil officers in "civilian" professions from police/military forces.

  7. Camille says:

    I’m pretty sure Sikhs do not wear emblems on their paghs/dastars in the U.S. Armed Forces (particularly in light of the Army’s ban on “religious headgeear”), but if I’m wrong could someone correct me?

    I think it’s also important to separate out these different groups. While it’s true, from an advocacy (and otherwise) standpoint we should be consistent, lack of consistency should not undermine a real problem for those Sikhs who work for the MTA. I don’t think it’s a prestige factor, but there is a fundamental difference in how we organize/treat civil officers in “civilian” professions from police/military forces.

  8. justasikh says:

    Camille Bhenji,

    Most police forces in north america who have a turban policy have a color and emblem setup. I know it is such in a few cities including my own.

    Is the uniform of one authority (transit) really all that different from police/military… all are public service.

    It would be a different thing if McDonalds wanted to put a golden arch above the fifty. Needless to say the Transit authorities uniform policy is a little lax if everyone else doesn't have to wear transit authority hats like police hats, etc. Police uniforms have hats with them and thats where a turban style might come in.

    I guess I just get tired of seeing sikhs in the media in large majority when there's a negative thing attached to it… another story altogether.

  9. justasikh says:

    Camille Bhenji,

    Most police forces in north america who have a turban policy have a color and emblem setup. I know it is such in a few cities including my own.

    Is the uniform of one authority (transit) really all that different from police/military… all are public service.

    It would be a different thing if McDonalds wanted to put a golden arch above the fifty. Needless to say the Transit authorities uniform policy is a little lax if everyone else doesn’t have to wear transit authority hats like police hats, etc. Police uniforms have hats with them and thats where a turban style might come in.

    I guess I just get tired of seeing sikhs in the media in large majority when there’s a negative thing attached to it… another story altogether.

  10. Camille says:

    justasikh, in North America meaning Canada, or in the U.S.? I haven't seen Sikh police where the logos on their dastars in the U.S., but maybe it's just not customary in my part of the country? (the only place where I have seen a dastar parallel the uniform/logo/pattern of other wear is in the London police force).

    I definitely do think transit is different from a police/military force, but I don't (at this point) think any ought to require branding.

    I hear where you're coming from, and I think there's merit to your argument, particularly around consistency. It does seem like a little bit of conversation within the community would perhaps also bridge differences of opinion, or at least flesh out internal pros/cons.

    That said, I don't think that this is a particularly "negative" story in that there doesn't seem to be extensive backlash (yet) — the support for the MTA workers seems less contested. Perhaps this is because there are so many Sikhs in NYC, or perhaps this is because the policy seems offensive to a wide variety of people of faith. Maybe it's liberal bias. But the experiences seems very different than conversations on the kirpan, for example, or even the commentary we heard regarding the Texas case.

  11. Camille says:

    justasikh, in North America meaning Canada, or in the U.S.? I haven’t seen Sikh police where the logos on their dastars in the U.S., but maybe it’s just not customary in my part of the country? (the only place where I have seen a dastar parallel the uniform/logo/pattern of other wear is in the London police force).

    I definitely do think transit is different from a police/military force, but I don’t (at this point) think any ought to require branding.

    I hear where you’re coming from, and I think there’s merit to your argument, particularly around consistency. It does seem like a little bit of conversation within the community would perhaps also bridge differences of opinion, or at least flesh out internal pros/cons.

    That said, I don’t think that this is a particularly “negative” story in that there doesn’t seem to be extensive backlash (yet) — the support for the MTA workers seems less contested. Perhaps this is because there are so many Sikhs in NYC, or perhaps this is because the policy seems offensive to a wide variety of people of faith. Maybe it’s liberal bias. But the experiences seems very different than conversations on the kirpan, for example, or even the commentary we heard regarding the Texas case.

  12. […] permitted if undertaken as a religious obligation: for instance, Sikh transit workers in New York may wear turbans. But not everything goes. Polygamy is outlawed. Nor would we allow human sacrifice, even if […]

  13. […] permitted if undertaken as a religious obligation: for instance, Sikh transit workers in New York may wear turbans. But not everything goes. Polygamy is outlawed. Nor would we allow human sacrifice, even if […]

  14. It's great to see so many public transit advocates. We recently started an online forum dedicated Public and Urban Transportation. If you have a chance, please take a look at our site by visiting the following link: Transit-Forum

Leave a Reply


We love hearing from our visitors, so please do leave your comments! No profanity, name calling, or discrimination, please - we try to keep The Langar Hall a clean, open, and hate-free zone. We reserve the right to edit or remove inappropriate comments.