In 1975 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that employees in unionized workplaces have the right to the presence of a union steward during any management questioning that the employee reasonably believes may result in discipline.
This all started in 1972 when Leura Collins was investigated by her employer, J. Weingarten, for possibly stealing from the lunch counter. It was reported that Collins was seen taking a $2.98 item while only paying $1.00. The investigator eventually cleared Collins when it was discovered that she was forced to use the larger box when the smaller boxes ran out. The Local found out about the questioning and filed charges with the NLRB.
Here is an example of a Weingarten Card.
So what does all this mean in “plain” English?
Simple. If your Boss, Supervisor or someone who represents the company with the authority to, starts asking you questions and you believe you could be punished because of the answers, you have the right to a union steward.
The key is your belief. Since you are the only person who knows what the answer is your belief that you could get into trouble is all that is needed to justify your request.
So if you just got through backing into your bosses Mercedes in the company parking lot and your supervisor asks you if you know anything about it, you would be safe in asking for a steward.
So you have invoked your Weingarten Rights. Now what? The boss has some choices. He can either:
1. Find you a Steward or other Union Representative.
2. End the interview all together, or
3. Talk you into answering the questions without a steward.
What do you do if they ignore your request?
I recommend that you politely repeat your request until they get tired, get you a steward or let you go.
The moment the interview is over I highly recommend you write down everything that everyone said during that meeting and contact your Local Representative immediately.
What if I talk without a rep? Unlike the Miranda warning we remember from all those TV crime dramas the Weingarten Rights will not protect you if you go ahead and talk.
So even though your employer has violated Federal law, they can still use what you say against you.
What if they ask me to write a statement? Isn’t that sort of the same?
Yes it is. If the employer is requesting information from you about anything that can affect your employment and you feel you may be punished, you can request a steward.
Now what can the steward do during this interview? Can the steward do more than just be a witness?
Yes. The steward has the right to:
1. Be informed what the company is investigating.
2. Have a private talk with the employee before questioning.
3. Ask pertinent questions during the interview.
4. Ask for clarification about questions.
5. Give advice to the employee on how to answer a question
6. Help by pointing out mitigating circumstances.
I usually tell an employee give the shortest answers possible. Many times I have seen employees dig their own graves by saying far too much.
One such example was an employee who was accused of sleeping on the job. He not only talked himself out of his job he provided a three page written statement explaining how it was impossible for him to be sleeping.
I had told him to simply answer “no, I was not sleeping” and leave it at that, but he wouldn’t listen.
Finally, don’t be fooling into talking when the boss tells you “don’t worry, you have nothing to worry about. We just want to get to the bottom of this before everyone can go back to work”.