Notes from The Stewards Council: Slouching Towards Weingarten

Don’t get caught without your steward in a disciplinary meeting. You have a right to representation and to know up front if you may need it. Here’s the deal.

The moment that a worker reasonably suspects that disciplinary action could occur during a meeting with management or Human Resources or that the meeting is a tool for managers to lay the groundwork for future discipline, the worker has the right to request that a union steward represent the worker. This is called a Weingarten right, named after the U.S. Supreme Court case that established it.

Whether a meeting is a Weingarten meeting or not is a subjective test. If the employee reasonably suspects that discipline could potentially occur as a result of the meeting, then that employee has the right to invoke Weingarten immediately, even if the meeting is already in progress.

Examples of meetings that typically meet the Weingarten criteria are

  • “investigatory” meetings,
  • “fact-finding” meetings,
  • meetings in which employees are asked to be “witnesses” or offer “testimony” regarding the activity of other employees,
  • and any meeting in which HR is involved.

9413341_origThe last point is crucial—any time you are asked by a manager to attend a meeting with HR, you have a reason to assume potential discipline and should invoke Weingarten immediately. If your managers don’t tell you that HR representatives will be at the meeting and they are, you should definitely state your Weingarten right and ask that the meeting be postponed until you can arrange for your union steward to represent you.

Even if your manager assures you that the meeting will not be disciplinary, do not assume that the meeting will not be disciplinary! The test is again subjective—you the employee are the authority, and you decide which is a Weingarten meeting and which is not. Unless a manager states in writing that no discipline will result from the meeting, there is always a chance for a gear-shift from an “informal chat” to a Letter of Clarification or similar pre-disciplinary actions.

Many times, managers won’t tell you any of this. Many times it is because they don’t know about it. The onus, unfortunately, is on the employee to explicitly invoke their Weingarten Right. Here is the invocation: “I request to have a union representative present on my behalf during this meeting because I believe it may lead to disciplinary action taken against me. If I am denied my right to have a union representative present, I will refuse to answer accusatory questions and any I believe may lead to discipline.”

Speak these words (or words to this effect) and request that the meeting be postponed until a steward is present to represent you. Call our Steward Hotline by dialing (541) 346-0321 and leave a message containing your name, department, position, and a brief summary of the issue. A steward should contact you within 48 hours. If you do not receive a response within this time, you can email me directly.

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SEIU Local 085