In a recent ruling [pdf] the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) held that AT&T and affiliated telecommunications companies in California and Nevada can’t lawfully prohibit employees from wearing buttons and stickers containing phrases such as “WTF Where’s the Fairness” and “Cut the Crap” when such buttons or stickers are worn during union negotiations.

Although employees generally have a protected right under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to wear and display union paraphernalia including buttons and stickers, this right can be taken away in certain situations such as extreme vulgarity and offensiveness. This is the argument that was made by AT&T—that the buttons and stickers that said “FTW Fight to Win,” and “Cut the Crap! Not My Healthcare” rose to such levels of vulgarity and offense that their wear was outside of the protections of the NLRA and could therefore be prohibited by the employer.

However, to AT&T’s dismay, the NLRB agreed with the earlier decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) and found that the language and accompanying illustrations on the buttons and stickers did not “cross that line.” The NLRB differentiated the buttons and stickers at issue here from another case [pdf] where it was found that an employer could lawfully prevent employees from wearing sweatshirts that read “Ma Bell Is A Cheap Mother.” The rationale of the NLRB in the current case is that, unlike the earlier case, “the acronyms here did not stand alone as a potentially profane statement; the buttons and stickers provided the acronyms along with text that established their meanings and negated any offensive connotation.”

Ultimately, AT&T was ordered to, among other things, cease and desist from overly-broad rules prohibiting employees from wearing union insignia. WTF Where’s the Fairness.