A strange fight has broken out between the FDNY and the firefighters' union. The union, Uniformed Firefighters Association, says that the FDNY won't allow firefighters to put up stickers of American flags, photographs of family or colleagues lost on September 11, mass cards or other seemingly innocuous items on their lockers. The FDNY says that firefighters are actually allowed to put up flag stickers or other "inoffensive material" and that the debate - which now involves lawyer Ron Kuby fighting for the union's rights - was unnecessary. Of course the FDNY would think that - it's not good when the press and public hears things like this from Kuby: "We entrust New York City firefighters with our lives and the lives of those most precious to us, and we don't trust them to properly decorate a locker?"
Recently, an inspector found a vulgar phrase on a firefighter's locker, which led to an FDNY order to strip everything off the outside and inside of all lockers except for firefighter names and numbers. FDNY deputy commissioner Mylan Denerstein said a ban on offensive materials actually went into effect 18 months ago and that while the department is very patriotic, "It is a workplace, and let's be clear, it is the Fire Department, and sadly we've had a series of unfortunate incidents where really offensive material was displayed." One incident is a sexual harassment case from 2005, when a female firefighter had to endure photos of nude women.
The FDNY says that American flags and mass cards can be placed on the outside of lockers, with family photographs and inoffensive materials inside. Plus, the FDNY calls the uproar "disingenuous" because the FDNY actually told the union that flags and mass cards would be allowed during contract negotiations. Still, the UFA is threatening to sue the FDNY over First Amendment violations and will distributing thousands of flag stickers for firefighters to put on their lockers.
Photograph of Engine Company 5 by Triborough on Flickr