One of the reasons that I had thought that starting a blog for the union was the ability to communicate some of the basic rights available to the membership, along with the activities and projects of the local branch. I’m going to try to write about some of those rights over the next couple of weeks, and explain their significance. I thought I would start off with the concept of Weingarten Rights, a set of rights that came out of a Supreme Court case in 1975. That case established the right of unionized employees to have the right to union representation during investigatory interviews that could lead to the employee being fired, disciplined, or where her personal working conditions could be affected. You probably won’t need this information. Most folks are able to go through their years at the university without significant trouble, but the university does a good job of making your life very difficult if you step off their path to completion, even in very minor matters. It’s good to know what rights and resources are available to you if you find yourself in this position.
Within those conditions, you as the employee must make a clear request for union representation, a request that you cannot be disciplined for making. At that point, the company or in our case, the university has three options; they can grant the request and wait until you have the ability to confer with your union representative privately before the meeting, and allowing that representative to participate in the discussion, deny the request and immediately end the meeting, or they can give you the clear choice of having the meeting without representation or ending the meeting immediately. At a basic level, this right gives you the right to consult with someone about your rights as employee, and lets you have time to respond without haste to the concerns presented by the university. All too often, the disciplinary concerns of the university are a surprise to us, drawing on complex and often changing expectations on the part of the university in regards to our conduct. Getting someone from the union involved lets you have the chance to parse out the claims presented by the university, verify them, and come up with an adequate response.
Why does this matter? To begin, you can get a sense of the rights that you have as an employee from the perspective of someone who is looking to advocate for your rights. You don’t have to depend on the University for an interpretation of those rights, an interpretation that is shaped by a set of interests that don’t always coincide with your own. It also lets you have an ability to work through the various options available to you to respond to the accusations presented by the university, options that are not always immediately recognizable. But just as significantly, simply having another person in the room can contribute to getting you a more fair hearing. Your supervisor and the university administration are far more likely to be scrupulous about your rights in the conversation, and are less likely to pressure you into a decision that you will later regret. You also benefit from having another set of ears at the meeting, someone who can take notes, and explore what was said in the meeting, and ways to respond to the proposals of the university. You also avoid the situation where it is your word against the university’s through the existence of an outside observer.
Obviously we hope that you won’t have to deal with a situation like this, but if you do, you should contact the union for advice. Our hope is that you have a union activist within your department to contact, but even if you don’t, you can contact us through email. Here are some contact points that you can use to express any concerns or to get advice.