In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case known as the NLRB vs. Weingarten. The principles laid down in Weingarten are important ones which all union members should be aware of.

In Weingarten, the Supreme Court upheld the following interpretation of employees' rights to union representation as outlined by the National Labor Relations Board:

An employee has a right to union representation in an investigatory interview with the employer, if he or she reasonably believes the investigation will lead to disciplinary action.

The Rules

Under the Supreme Court's Weingarten decision, when an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:

The employee must make a clear request for union representation before or during the interview. The employee cannot be punished for making this request.

After the employee makes the request, the employer must choose from among three options. The Employer must either:

a. Grant the request and delay questioning until the union representative arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee; or

b. Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or

c. Give the employee a choice of (1) having the interview without representation or (2) ending the interview.

If the employer denies the request for union representation, and continues to ask questions, it commits an unfair labor practice and the employee has a right to refuse to answer. The employer may not discipline the employee for such a refusal.

The essence of "Weingarten Rights" is to give employees the opportunity to have a union representative in a situation that may lead to a punitive act against the employee. The rationale behind this concept as put forth by the Supreme Court is that a single employee being interviewed might be intimidated and, therefore, may not raise facts in his or her favor during the disciplinary interview. A knowledgeable union representative, on the other hand, would offer "aid and protection" by helping to guide the interview.

The presence of a steward can help in many ways. For example:

1. The steward can help a fearful or inarticulate employee explain what happened.

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.

Know the limits:

Just as itís important to know what your Weingarten rights are, it is also important to know the limits.

You are not entitled to have a steward present every time a supervisor wants to talk to you. Remember, if the discussion begins to change into questioning that could lead to discipline, you have the right to ask for representation before the conversation goes any further. If you are called into the supervisorís office for an investigation, you canít refuse to go without your steward. All you can do is refuse to answer questions until your union representative (or steward) gets there and youíve had a chance to talk things over.

What to Say if Management Asks Questions That Could Lead to Discipline:

"If this discussion could in anyway lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working conditions, I request that my union representative, officer, or steward by present at the meeting. Without representation, I choose not to answer any questions."