Updated 06/16/2009 06:39 PM
Coalition Demands End To MTA Turban Branding
Elected officials and MTA workers joined the Sikh Coalition in its rally Tuesday as they continue to call for an end to turban branding at the agency. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
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It was a compromise that was supposed to allow for religious headwear. The MTA would let uniformed workers wear turbans or Muslim head scarves, so long as they were blue and featured the MTA logo. But a group of activists and elected officials maintain that's discriminatory.
"The MTA has told Sikh workers and Muslim workers that if you want to continue working with the MTA post-9/11, you must brand your sacred space with our corporate logo," said Sikh Coalition Executive Director Amardeep Singh.
Now, Sikh activists have the City Council in their corner. Of the Council's 51 members, 27 signed off on a letter sent Tuesday to New York City Transit President Howard Roberts urging him to abandon the policy.
"To say to these hard-working people, that for their required religious head-dresses, that the MTA patch has to be there, that is offensive, that is an insult, that is anti-New York," said City Councilman John Liu.
"No one should ever, ever, under any circumstances, have to choose between their livelihood and their religion," said City Councilman David Weprin.
City Council members aren't the only ones who have a problem with the policy. The MTA is also squaring off against the U.S. Justice Department, which filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the agency back in 2004. That lawsuit has been combined with those filed by individual workers, and is currently still pending in Brooklyn federal court.
In a statement released Tuesday, the MTA said "We believe that standardized uniforms assist our customers in quickly identifying employees if they need emergency assistance or just travel directions."
Sikh workers say transit officials can't point to a single instance of misidentification. While they admit many supervisors don't even bother enforcing the logo requirement, they want the policy officially rescinded.
"It's still there, it's still on the books, and what it does, it keeps Sikhs from wanting to work here, because it makes the workplace look like it's bigoted, and not accepting of diversity," said MTA train operator Kevin Harrington.
While the MTA denies the discrimination charge, the issue may still have to be resolved in court.