State employee labor union wins court ruling, upholds wearing of blue jeans

By: - January 20, 2023 10:57 am
Drone Shot of Nebraska State Capitol at Sunset

The Sower rises above The Nebraska State Capitol in downtown Lincoln. (Getty Images)

LINCOLN — In a battle over wearing blue jeans, a state employees union has prevailed.

On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a ruling that the State Department of Health and Human Services had overstepped its bounds by changing the dress code — and banning blue jeans and other casual dress — in violation of its labor contract.

The case grew out of a decision by DHHS in 2020 to change its long-standing dress code for employees, requiring “business casual” dress on Mondays through Thursdays, and allowing blue jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes on “Casual Fridays” only.

The Nebraska Association of Public Employees, on behalf of its members, filed a grievance over the change, pointing out that its labor contract with the state requires than any change in the conditions of employment requires notice and bargaining with the union.

NAPE also argued that the dress code change didn’t make sense because many DHHS employees don’t deal directly with the public and that it would cost workers extra  money to buy new clothing.

The Nebraska Supreme Court, in a 22-page ruling, upheld decisions by a lower court and an arbitrator that DHHS had violated the labor contract.

“This case was about basic contract enforcement and we are thankful the court affirmed our rights,” said NAPE President Melissa Haynes in a press release. “We always want to work collaboratively with DHHS management to solve disputes, but we will never hesitate to defend our rights.”

Justin Hubly, NAPE’s executive director, said it was disappointing that the state spent taxpayer money to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling all the way to the state’s highest court.

He said NAPE members plan to continue to provide public services “even in blue jeans when appropriate.”

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.