(WASHINGTON)—An independent arbitrator ruled that Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri violated its contract with AFGE Local 2361 by unilaterally requiring Air Reserve Technician (ART) employees to wear military uniforms while in civilian status performing civilian duties.
The arbitration states, “Accordingly, while uniforms may improve consistent appearance, cohesion and other long-term military goals, they also can generate lower short-term morale and predicate consequential military behavior on a civilian work force.”
In 2007 the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) enacted a provision that would require ARTs to wear military uniforms even while serving in civilian status. The AFRC claimed that the change is to help facilitate integration with the regular Air Force and National Guard as well as consolidate forces and capitalize on each others strengths.
“Not so,” according to Mark Gibson, AFGE labor relations specialist. “These individuals work to serve and protect this country and uniforms, or the lack thereof, will not add or subtract from their strengths. The ruling clearly debunks this weak argument by the AFRC.”
The arbitrator goes on to rule, “More importantly, the record contains no demonstrable evidence about the practical positive effects, if any, on ARTs’ civilian work duties or the Air Force’s mission. Likewise there is no change in circumstances, any emergency or other compelling exigencies necessitating uniforms for civilian employees at times they had not previously worn them.”
“This decisive ruling fully supports our position. This costly, ridiculous tactic of the DoD to manipulate and control federal civilian employees has failed,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “To imply that one needs to wear a uniform in order to be patriotic and ‘fit in’ is absurd as well as insulting to the service these men and women have given to their country. This ploy to further dismantle workers’ rights has been beaten.”
AFGE jointly with AFGE Locals across the country filed a lawsuit in federal district court which is still pending. This ruling is the first of its kind and sets an historic precedent around protecting the rights of civilian employees across the country. “Since ARTs are not “active” members of the Air Force Reserves, they do not qualify for the same medical and pay benefits that full members enjoy,” said Gibson. “This ruling sets the bar for other civilian employees on other military bases. If AFRC is going to require ARTs to wear uniforms during their civilian duties then they should be activated and afforded full rights.”
AFGE is the largest federal employee union representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the District of Columbia, including the largest constituency of DHS employees.