Your Union Steward
Who are Local 776 Union Stewards?
A Union steward is one of your co-workers, he/she acts as an agent of the Local Union in the workplace. The Union membership and the Teamster Local Union determines procedures for electing and/or appointing Union stewards and negotiates how many stewards are in each job location, shift and department. The Steward's job is to make sure your company lives up to your contract. When there is a problem with management and you need Union help, your first stop should be a visit with your Union steward.
One of the most vital functions of a Union Steward is to prevent management from intimidating employees. Nowhere is this more important than in closed-door meetings when supervisors or guards, often trained in interrogation techniques, attempt to coerce employees into confessing to wrongdoing.
In 1975, in NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court announced the rights of employees in the presence of Union representatives during investigatory interviews. Since that case involved a clerk being investigated by the Weingarten Company, these rights have become known as Weingarten rights.
Under the Supreme Court's Weingarten decision, when an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:
Union Stewards should encourage workers to assert their Weingarten rights. The presence of a Union Steward can help in many ways. For example:
2.The Steward can raise extenuating factors.
3.The Steward can advise an employee against blindly denying everything, thereby giving the appearance of dishonesty and guilt.
4.The Steward can help prevent an employee from making fatal admissions.
5.The Steward can stop an employee from losing his or her temper, and perhaps getting fired for insubordination.
6.The Steward can serve as a witness to prevent supervisors from giving a false account of the conversation.
What is an Investigatory Interview?
Employees have Weingarten rights only during investigatory interviews. An investigatory interview occurs when a supervisor questions an employee to obtain information that 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 a right to request union representation.
Shop-floor conversations: Not every management-initiated discussion is an investigatory interview. For example, a foreman may talk to a worker about the proper way to do a job. Even if the boss asks questions, this is not an investigatory interview because the possibility of discipline is remote. The same is true of routine conversations to clarify work assignments or explain safety rules.
Nevertheless, even an ordinary shop-floor discussion can change its character if the supervisor is dissatisfied with the employee's answers. If this happens, the employee can insist on the presence of a union representative before the conversation goes any further.
Disciplinary announcements: When a supervisor calls a worker to the office to announce a warning or other discipline, is this an investigatory interview affording the worker a right to union representation? The NLRB says no, because the employer is merely announcing a previously arrived-at decision and is not questioning the worker. Such a meeting, however, can be transformed into an investigatory interview if the supervisor begins to ask questions to support the decision.
Note: An employer that has followed a past practice of allowing stewards to be present when supervisors announce discipline must maintain the practice during the contract term. Refusing to allow a steward to attend would constitute an unlawful unilateral change.
Investigatory Interviews usually relate to subjects such as:
The Supreme Court did not impose a notice requirement in its Weingarten decision. Employers have no obligation to inform workers of their right to request union representation. This is the Union's job.
Shop Stewards should explain Weingarten rights to all employees they represent. A good way to get the word out is to distribute wallet-sized cards saying the following:
"If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working condition, I respectfully request that my union representative, officer, or steward be present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions."
Local 776 has a pocketsize Weingarten rights card available on the Local’s website. Follow the link below to download, view and print a Weingarten Rights card:
Members should present the card whenever they fear that what they say may affect their position with the employer.
Rights of Stewards
Employers often assert that the only role of a steward at an investigatory interview is to observe the discussion, in other words to be a silent witness. The Supreme Court however, clearly acknowledged a steward's right to assist and counsel workers during the interview. Decided cases establish the following procedures:
1.When the steward arrives, the supervisor must inform the steward of the subject matter of the interview, i.e. the type of misconduct for which discipline is being considered (theft, lateness, drugs, etc.)
2.The steward must be allowed to take the worker aside for a private pre-interview conference before questioning begins.
3.The steward must be allowed to speak during the interview. However, the steward does not have the right to bargain over the purpose of the interview.
4.The steward can request that the supervisor clarify a question so that the worker can understand what is being asked.
5.After a question is asked, the steward can give advice on how to answer.
6.When the questioning ends, the steward can provide additional information to the supervisor.
It must be emphasized that if the Weingarten rules are complied with, stewards have no right to tell workers not to answer questions, or to give false answers. Workers can be disciplined if they refuse to answer questions.
Your Union Steward is your first link to the Local Union. Know your Union Steward by name, when needed ask for he/she by name.
Page Last Updated: Jul 24, 2015 (05:22:00)