The Right to Wear Union Face Masks
When Covid-19 hit workplaces in 2020, our industrial members were declared essential employees and continued working in the plywood plants, and sawmills, and more. Masks quickly became required PPE, and with masking came new territory for guidelines around union insignia on job sites.
Early on in the pandemic, a significant employer of NWCU industrial members wrote a new Face Mask Policy that banned all face masks with writing on them, unless it was the company logo, the American flag, or the Canadian flag. This created challenges for our members, many of whom wore the NWCU masks provided to them by their union. In fact, shortly after the policy was released, an NWCU steward was approached by a supervisor and told he could not wear the union face mask. This steward knew his rights, and that wearing union insignia at work is a protected activity, so he contacted his union representative and a grievance was filed.
NWCU pursued the grievances through three standardized steps, and let HR and management know that their policy was a violation of labor law and that it needed to be rewritten to protect the rights of union members. The company refused to change the policy, and the grievance was lost. The union president and a union trustee in another plant were also told they couldn’t wear the union face masks. At this point options had been exhausted through the grievance procedure, so the union representative filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that enforces labor law in the private sector.
The NLRB determined that the charges had merit and pursued the case. The union was asked to amend the charges to a single national charge which affects all U.S. facilities, and in June 2021, the company agreed to settle the case and posted notices in all U.S. facilities acknowledging union members’ right to wear union insignia at work. A leader on the ground said of the situation, “It’s not right that employees were allowed to wear any other masks but our members couldn’t wear union face masks. We believe in our members’ right to wear our union logo at work.”
This is a victory not just for our members in Oregon, but affects industrial UBC members working across the country.
If you feel your rights are being violated, contact your NWCU representative.