Last month in a 2-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board upheld the ability of AT&T employees involved in bargaining negotiations with their employer, to wear t-shits describing themselves as "inmates" of "AT$T." AT&T ordered employees directly dealing with customers not to wear the striped shirts, citing possible confusion among customers as to whether they were dealing with real prison inmates, especially during home visits by technicians.
The NLRB concluded that the AT&T directive constituted unlawful interference with the employees' bargaining rights. The Board was not convinced that the t-shirts in questions presented special circumstances that would create an exception to the general rule that employees are allowed to wear pro-union insignia while at work. Although the t-shirts may cause some initial confusion, the totality of employee identification information and truck logos could not create a reasonable belief that the technicians were in fact prison inmates.
The dissenting Board member said that the initial shock suffered by a customer answering the door and encountering someone wearing an "inmate" t-shirt justified the ban regardless of other mitigating identification. This decision illustrates the pro-labor bent of the current NLRB. This is the latest in a series of 2-1 decisions upholding expansive interpretations of employee bargaining rights, and limiting employer responses to perceived abuses of these rights.