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Ban on Flag Decals on Company Vehicles Raises Worker Ire

March 22, 2005

BOSTON – Charles Livingstone, a Vietnam War veteran, is livid at his employer, the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, for removing American flag stickers and various patriotic paraphernalia from company vehicles last year, according to the Boston Globe. A meter technician for 12 years at the commission, Livingstone said that the management ordered employees to take their company vehicles to the auto department to have all stickers and decorations including American flags removed in May 2004. 'It hurts me every day to walk through the doors where I am employed. It offends me that I have to come to work every day faced with an administration that is un-American," Livingstone said. Livingstone said he was so offended by the commission's mandate that late last year he demanded to know who ordered the decals removed. When he did not get a response, he posted anticommission fliers around the building, for which he received a verbal and a written warning late last year. He has distributed 40 to 50 fliers every morning to the State House, Senator John F. Kerry's residence, City Hall, and police stations. The fliers contain the World War II photograph of soldiers planting the American flag on Iwo Jima and read, 'Orders are from the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to take the flag down." A commission spokeswoman, Jeanne Richardson, said Livingstone's flag was removed because of a safety concern. 'Mr. Livingstone had a flag on a stick, taped to the antenna. That was a projectile. That was a safety issue," Richardson said. The commission removed union bumper stickers that had American flag motifs because they contained disparaging remarks about the commission during contract negotiations last May, she said. But Livingstone denied ever having a flag stuck to his car antenna. He said his vehicle had a red, white, and blue bumper sticker reading 'Justice for Veterans," a Prisoner of War sticker on the visor, and an American flag sticker on the rear window. Anthony Scarpa, a commission employee and vice president of the local International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, denied that anyone stuck anticommission union bumper stickers on the commission trucks. "We don't have any union stickers on any of the trucks. It has nothing to do with a union issue," he said, adding that the pro-union stickers were yellow and black and had no resemblance to the American flag. "The original issue was that a flag was affixed to an antenna. Then they took off a lot of other flags." The Globe received calls from six other commission employees supporting Livingstone's assertion that management had ordered the flag stickers removed from vehicles. But three other employees, all with military backgrounds, said they had not heard about the incident and commended the commission for being veteran-friendly. Richardson maintains that the commission is carrying out a no-bumper-sticker policy. "These are city vehicles, it's not a personal car," Richardson said. "They have decals that they can put on the windows. It has nothing to do with patriotism, it has to do with it being a company car. There can be no bumper stickers on our commission vehicles." Richardson said American flag decals are permitted on car windows and added that the commission bought 260 of them in 2002.
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