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A Question of Balance

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It will take the wisdom of Solomon to resolve the dispute that has emerged between the Sikh community and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The Sikh Coalition has filed a lawsuit demanding the MTA abandon a seldom-enforced policy that requires Sikh men working for the MTA to put the MTA logo on their turbans.

The MTA had already compromised by allowing Sikh employees to wear the turbans, but Kevin Harrington, a converted Sikh and union official, says that is not enough.

“I think the Transit Authority is being ridiculous about it,” he said. “It’s an attempt to stifle diversity and it’s anti-American. We believe that we’re a part of the foundation of American history and we act in an American way. By saying, ‘You can’t wear a turban you don’t brand’ ... it’s a religious test,” Harrington said. “They’re saying, ‘If you don’t practice your religion our way, you can’t work here.’”

Harrington and others say the workers already wear the MTA logo on shirts and jackets, so there is no danger they will not be identified.

We believe in the importance of inclusion and we do not want to see any breadwinners lose their jobs over something that is more or less symbolic. At the same time, it seems to us the MTA has gone out of its way to open the door to Sikh employees. The turban is a significant departure from the standard MTA uniform. We do not see what harm would be done by asking the men to wear an MTA patch on their turbans.

The Sikhs are not alone. We doubt Catholic nuns would be welcome to work at the MTA wearing a traditional habit and we have never seen an MTA employee wearing a Roman collar. Uniforms are important for security and make it easier for the public to recognize MTA employees.

Harrington suggested the MTA is telling the workers how to “practice their religion.” That is untrue and unfair. More likely the MTA is protecting its right to establish a uniform standard.

From all we have heard, the Sikhs are reliable workers who show up every day on time. We hope a compromise can be reached that will satisfy the needs of the workers and MTA.

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