Turban-wearing Sikh employees of the MTA are calling on the agency to reverse its policy requiring them to brand their turbans with the MTA logo.
“What these workers are saying is that’s just really discrimination and a double standard,” said Sonny Singh of The Sikh Coalition, a Manhattan-based group counseling six Sikhs who filed a lawsuit in 2004 against the MTA in order to force the agency to abandon the policy. “This happens to be a case of post-9/11 discrimination where Sikhs and Muslims are singled out.”
Kevin Harrington, a converted Sikh and transit union official who was a train conductor for 25 years, said the policy is preventing Sikhs who need jobs to apply for one with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“I think the transit authority is being ridiculous about it,” said Harrington, who is among the Sikhs who filed the lawsuit. “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.’”
The MTA says wearing the patch helps customers identify Sikhs as transit workers, but Harrington said he had never been mistaken before the policy was put in place.
“I have never been misidentified as anything other than a train operator,” he said, noting that the logo appears on other places on the MTA uniform besides the MTA hat.
“It’s very clear that these workers are MTA workers, so it’s really a ridiculous policy,” he said.
Singh said some Sikh employees carry the MTA patch in their pocket and place it on their turban when a supervisor checking uniforms comes by.
Harrington said others sacrificed their religion and wear the logo while others disobey the policy.
Neither he nor Singh could say how many Sikhs have either quit or lost their jobs for not adhering to the rule.
While the policy is on the books, Harrington said some supervisors do not enforce it.
“We have bosses and most of them don’t agree with it,” he said. “Most of the supervisors don’t care. They’re happy we show up for work.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.
©2009 Community News Group
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