The Union Steward
In one sense, all union members are union stewards for we should all work to ensure justice on the job. However, the official Union Steward is often the face of the union to other members and to the company. He is a chief enforcer of the contract and members' representative to management.
In 1975, in NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc, the U.S. Supreme Court defined 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. In 2000, the NLRB extended those rights to non-union workplaces.
However, in 2004, in IBM Corp. and Kenneth Schult, the National Labor Relations Board (Board) reversed themselves and decided by a 3-2 vote that non-unionized employees are not legally entitled to have a coworker present during an investigatory interview that the employee reasonably believes might result in discipline.
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.
Under the Supreme Court's Weingarten decision, when an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:
Unions should encourage workers to assert their Weingarten rights. The presence of a steward can help in many ways. For example:
Note: the NLRB generally does not defer charges alleging a violation of Weingarten rights. Nor are violations considered de minimus even if no employee is disciplined.