Employee’s Rights to Union Representation
by Shelly Alvarado
Rights of unionized employees to have a union representative present during investigatory interviews were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1975 case, (NLRB vs. Weingarten Inc. 420 U.S. 251,88 LRRM 2689). These rights are known as the Weingarten rights. Union employees have Weingarten rights only during investigatory interviews: An investigatory interview occurs when a supervisor questions an employee to obtain information which could be used as a basis for discipline or asks an employee to defend his or her conduct. If an employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or other adverse consequences may result from what he or she says, the employee has the right to request union representation.
Management is not required to inform the employee of his/her Weingarten rights; it is the employee’s responsibility to know and request. When the employee makes the request for a union representative to be present management then has three options:
1) It can stop questioning until the representative arrives.
2) It can call off the interview or,
3) It can tell the employee that it will call off the interview unless the employee voluntarily gives up his/her rights to a union representative (an option the employee should always refuse).
Once you’ve asked for union representation, any attempt by management to continue asking questions before a union representative gets there is ILLEGAL. If supervisors pressure you by telling you that “you’re only making things worse for yourself’ by asking for union representation, that’s against the law too.
Employers will often assert that the only role of a union representative in an investigatory interview is to observe the discussion. The Supreme Court, however, clearly acknowledges a representative’s right to assist and counsel workers during the interview. The Supreme Court has also ruled that during investigatory interviews management must inform the union representative of the subject of the interrogation. The representative must also be allowed to speak privately with the employee before the interview. During the questioning, the representative can interrupt to clarify a question or to object to confusing or intimidating tactics.
While the interview is in progress the representative cannot tell the employee what to say but he may advise them on how to answer a question. At the end of the interview the union representative can add information to support the employee’s case.
What to say if Management asks questions that could lead to discipline:
“If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working conditions, I request that my union representative, officer, or steward be present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions.”
Under Collective Bargaining Agreement Art.17 Sec. 3: when it is necessary for a steward to leave his/her work area to investigate and adjust grievances or to investigate a specific problem to determine whether to file a grievance, the steward shall request permission from the immediate supervisor and such request shall not be unreasonably denied.
In the event the duties require the steward leave the work area and enter another work area the steward must also receive permission from the supervisor from the other area he/she wishes to enter and such request should not be unreasonably denied. During the Labor/Management meeting on 7/22/03 a discussion concerning steward release resulted in the following agreement. That the Postmaster would reinforce to supervisors that the steward should be released within the same tour that a clerk craft employee requests a steward. A Step 4 settlement from 1/23/79 assures the following agreement “If management must delay a steward from an investigation of a grievance or employee’s request for a steward, management should inform the steward or the employee involved of the reasons for the delay and should also inform them of when time will be made available.
What can you as the employee do?
Day 1: violation occurs: (don’t wait 13 days to report it; we only have 14 days from the day of violation to file). Request a steward from your immediate supervisor at the time the violation occurs (make a note of date and time).
Day 2: request a steward again (make note of date and time)....
Day 3: call your steward let them know you requested a steward and you have not received one and still request a steward from your supervisor noting dates and times every day there after till you receive a steward. Day 4, 5,6,7,8,9,10 etc
Notes: Collective Bargaining Agreement art.15: we have 14 days of the date on which the employee or the union first learned of the violation whether you get a steward or not. Remember that management knows our rights but continually ignores them by not releasing your stewards in a timely manner. Your steward cannot meet with you until their supervisor releases them. Document everything: times, dates and types of violation that occurred with detailed information (who, what, when, where, why, how etc.). Your union officials and stewards are always willing and available to fight for your rights as collective bargaining employees. However, management continually refuses either to release us or honor our request for steward’s time forcing us to try to do our best by working at home, off the clock through our lunches and breaks which is not giving us adequate time to investigate and file your grievances. We need your help! Document the facts that are pertinent to the situation and only to the situation. Request your steward as many times as it takes. It’s your right. Don’t let your rights get violated!