NY City Council Calls for End to MTA ‘Turban Branding’

June 29, 2009 by Sunita Sohrabji
Several New York City Council members joined the Sikh Coalition at a June 16 rally in front of City Hall calling for the Metropolitan Transit Authority to end its policy of requiring Sikh employees to wear the company’s logo on their turbans.

Twenty-seven city council members simultaneously endorsed a letter to Howard Roberts, Jr., president of the MTA New York, asserting that the policy was an “unnecessary and unjust mandate.”

“This is headdress that is required of followers of the Sikh faith,” said John Liu, chair of the city council transportation committee. “It is totally and utterly unacceptable for the MTA to require that their corporate logo be sewn onto this religious wear.”

“It serves no purpose towards enhancing service nor protecting the public, and effectively humiliates followers of the faith,” said Liu.

The MTA has said that a logo on the turban clearly identifies the person as an employee of the transit authority. But the Coalition and members of the city council said the policy is selective, and targets only Sikhs and Muslims.

A 2005 Department of Justice study found more than 100 instances of MTA employees wearing headwear without their logo, including Yankees baseball caps, yarmulkes, knit caps, and MTA-issued winter hats. In July 2005, the Sikh Coalition filed discrimination charges against the MTA on behalf of five station agents and a train operator.

“To create special rules only enforceable against Sikhs and Muslims that don’t apply to anyone else is discrimination,” said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition. “It’s time for this policy to end,” he said, adding, “You don’t need to brand your turban with a corporate logo to do your job.”

In related news, the Yuba City, Calif., police department issued a statement earlier this month, confirming that turbaned Sikhs are welcome to join its force. The confirmation echoed a 2007 letter by Richard Doscher, former Yuba City police chief, stating, “We have no policy which precludes an employee of the Sikh faith from wearing a turban or beard (or possession of a kirpan) during their employment with us.”

The Richmond, Calif., police department followed suit, and issued a written confirmation June 16 saying that observant Sikhs are welcome to join its force.

“Any employee who is of the Sikh faith would not be prohibited from wearing a turban or having a beard,” said Richmond police chief Chris Magnus.

In a statement, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund thanked Dr. J.P. Singh for proactively reaching out to the Richmond Police Department.

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