Hennepin County Medical Center - Local 977

You’re Not Alone

Retiree Maureen Glover, a longtime steward in Local 34

One of the core principles of being a union member is: You are not on your own. One of the best examples of this is that union workers have Weingarten Rights. No other workers have this protection.

Weingarten Rights mean you do not have to face a workplace investigation alone. If your supervisor or someone else from management calls you in and questions you about a topic that you think is setting up discipline – either for you or for a co-worker – you can request that a union representative join the meeting.

Union members have this right because of the 1975 Supreme Court ruling in National Labor Relations Board v. Weingarten.

“One of the things the Supreme Court realized is that employees are particularly vulnerable when asked to meet with management,” says Monica Bielski Boris, of the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service. “There’s a real power imbalance in those meetings.”

Weingarten Rights help union members balance that power. “Otherwise, it’s a one-way relationship where management has all the authority,” she says.

It’s your right – use it

For workers, however, there is a catch: Weingarten Rights are not automatic. Management does not have to tell you about these rights. They do not have to tell you that you can bring in a union steward.

It’s not like Miranda rights on TV shows, where police have to “read you your rights,” says Michael Dillon, a field education coordinator for AFSCME International.

In the workplace, you have to be aware of your rights, exercise those rights, and actively request union representation, Dillon says.

That’s why stewards in some locals, such as Hennepin County Human Services Local 34, pass out business cards that have your Weingarten Rights spelled out on the back.

In an investigatory meeting, you can request that a steward join you any time you have a “reasonable belief” that the discussion will lead to discipline for you or a co-worker. Once you make the request, the supervisor can do one of three things, Dillon says:

  • Deny your request and end the meeting.
  • Give you the choice to continue the meeting without representation. (Don’t pick this option, he warns.)
  • Grant your request and let you call in a steward. (The supervisor cannot pick the steward, and you do not have to answer any questions until the steward arrives.)

The steward's role

It is important to understand that the steward cannot stop the investigation, Dillon says. But the steward can talk with you privately, can clarify the purpose of the meeting, and can ask the supervisor to clarify questions. Mostly, the steward takes notes to document information and build a formal case to protect you if the supervisor’s actions are not consistent with due process and your union contract.

“We make sure it’s fair, that it’s clear,” says Local 34 steward Ahmed Mohamed. “We’re there to protect your job.”
Weingarten Rights do not mean members can avoid answering management’s questions, says Maureen Glover, a longtime steward in Local 34. “You do need to answer questions. You do need to be honest. But you should keep your answers short and to the point.

“If you’re not sure, admit you’re not sure.” The last thing you want, she says, is to give an answer that other evidence contradicts.

The steward is also there to make sure you don’t get yourself in more trouble, Bielski Boris says.

“There’s usually some emotion in there. The worker is nervous, or upset, or maybe breaking down in tears. Some people get extremely angry, and they’re in danger of saying something or behaving in a way that leads to more discipline.”

Adapted from the July-August 2015 issue of Council 5’s Stepping Up magazine.

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