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Nebraska Supreme Court to workers: Yes, you can wear blue jeans to work

NAPE/AFSCME members, many wearing blue jeans, showed up for the oral arguments in the denim case held at a Nebraska high school.
Nebraska Supreme Court to workers: Yes, you can wear blue jeans to work
By Nebraska Association of Public Employees ·

LINCOLN, Neb. – What began as a dispute over denim ended up becoming a case that strengthened worker’s rights in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Supreme Court sided with NAPE/AFSCME Local 61 union members earlier this month in a case that started over a blue jeans ban imposed by Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

In December 2019, DHHS unilaterally changed its employee dress code by, among other things, banning jeans Monday-Thursday. Over 200 NAPE/AFSCME members filed a grievance alleging that DHHS violated the union contract by failing to provide proper notice and negotiate over a mandatory subject of bargaining, and by implementing the new dress code in an unreasonable manner.

In February 2020, NAPE/AFSCME won the grievance in binding arbitration. Later that year, DHHS filed a lawsuit to overturn the arbitrator’s decision. But DHHS lost at the District Court of Lancaster County, which upheld the arbitrator’s decision on Jan. 26, 2022.

DHHS appealed the ruling to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Nov. 2, 2022, at the Nebraska City High School as part of the High School Oral Argument Series to help raise awareness and civic education for high school students. Dozens of NAPE/AFSCME members used vacation time to attend the oral arguments in person.

Read the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Jan. 20, 2023, decision here.

NAPE President Melissa Haynes, a social services worker in Fremont, responded to the court’s decision by saying, “Our members are passionate public servants who deliver essential services to our fellow Nebraskans. This case was about basic contract enforcement, and we are thankful the court affirmed our rights. We always want to work collaboratively with DHHS management to solve disputes, but we will never hesitate to defend our rights.”

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