New York City Council Majority Demands End to MTA's "Turban-branding" Policy

After years of post-9/11 discrimination, Sikh transit workers and 27 City Council members say "Enough is Enough"

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New York, NY - On Tuesday, a majority of the New York City Council called on the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to end a policy requiring Sikh workers to brand their turbans with the MTA logo. 27 of the Council's 51 members sent a letter to Howard Roberts, president of MTA New York City Transit, charging that the policy amounts to religious discrimination. 

This marks the first time in the four year dispute between Sikh transit workers and the MTA that a majority of the New York City Council has spoken out against the MTA's turban-branding policy.  As it stands, the MTA requires both Sikh and Muslim workers to brand their respective religious headdress with its logo.  The policy is presently the subject of litigation in the federal court brought by both Sikh and Muslim workers. 

"We are not talking about baseball caps that people wear when it's too sunny outside or when their hair might be messed up," stated City Council Transportation Chair John Liu. "This is headdress that is required of followers of the Sikh faith.  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 toward enhancing service nor protecting the public, and effectively humiliates followers of the faith."  

Council Member Tony Avella added, "It's time for the City Council to take action on this matter, and it's long overdue that the MTA end religious discrimination.  Enough is enough." 

In March 2005, the federal Justice Department released results from an investigation that found over 200 instances of MTA employees wearing headdress without an MTA logo over the course of three days.  This included MTA-issued Russian-style winter hats without a logo. The Justice Department filed its own discrimination suit against the MTA in September 2004.  In July 2005, the Sikh Coalition filed discrimination charges on behalf of five Sikh station agents and a Sikh train operator. 

"The MTA honored me for driving my train in reverse away from the towers on 9/11 and leading passengers to safety. They called me a 'hero of 9/11,'" said plaintiff Sat Hari Singh (aka Kevin Harrington), a practicing Sikh.  "I didn't have a corporate logo on my turban on 9/11. I see MTA workers wearing Yankees caps, fashion headwear, and yarmulkes.  Why are they only picking only on Sikhs and Muslims?"

turban branding press conference photo"To create special rules only enforceable against Sikhs and Muslims that don't apply to anyone else is discrimination.  This lawsuit has been going on for years, and it's time for this policy to end.  Our city transit workers should look like the rest of the city.  As we saw in the case of Kevin Harrington on 9/11, you don't need to brand your turban with a corporate logo to do your job," said Amardeep Singh, Executive Director of the Sikh Coalition.

Tuesday's press conference announcing theCity Council letter was well-attended by the New York media. The New York Daily News,New York PostNew York 1Metro NYNBC News,  WNYC, ABC News, Reuters TV, Fox 5 News, and NYCTV all covered the event.   In addition, five City Council members who signed on to the letter to the MTA attended and spoke at the press conference, including John Liu, Robert Jackson, Simcha Felder, Charles Barron, and David Weprin.


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