(This was originally in the SJ Area Local Newsletter of April 2019. Written by: Judith Eaden)
“So, who is Weingarten and why should I care?”
Know Your Rights: How we came to be protected by a chicken lunch
In 1972 Leura Collins, an employee at a fast food chicken place, took two pieces of chicken and put a dollar, the correct amount, into the cash drawer, but there were no dollar-sized boxes, so she put her chicken into a $2.98-sized chicken box. Another employee, one who saw the chicken box, but not the contents, turned Collins in, reporting that Collins had paid only a dollar for a $2.98 meal. So, Collins was called into the office.
Her many requests for a steward were denied, and an inquisition continued until finally everyone was satisfied that Collins had done nothing wrong – that she had paid a dollar for a dollar’s worth of chicken, and that there were no dollar-sized boxes in the store.
But Collins was upset, and volunteered that the only thing she had ever taken without paying for was the free chicken meals that employees were entitled to. “What’s that?” the Weingarten company rep said [Weingarten owned the lunch store chain], “You’re only entitled to free lunches at stores where we have lunch counters. This store has no lunch counter. Therefore, you owe $160.00 for the chicken you admit you’ve eaten!” It turned out that no one in the store was aware of this lunch-counter/no lunch-counter policy, and that everyone in the store, including the manager, had been taking free lunches.
Nevertheless, Collins was required to sign a note promising to pay $160.00, which she refused to sign, and she was instructed not to tell anyone about the interview, which she did; she told her union steward.
This refusal of Weingarten to allow Collins to be accompanied by her steward for what she believed was a disciplinary interview ended up as a case heard by the Supreme Court – a case that Weingarten lost and unions won!
So, here’s your dessert from the chicken lunch:
The Supreme Court has decided that any time you believe that you are in a discussion with a supervisor that in your mind might lead to discipline, you have the right to have a steward present. Once you have requested a steward, the supervisor must stop the interview until the steward is present. And once the steward is present, you have the right to consult privately with the steward before continuing the interview.
It makes no difference if the supervisor insists it isn’t a disciplinary discussion – the important perception is yours. If you feel the discussion could lead to discipline, you have the right to ask for a steward and to say nothing until the steward is with you. And finding a steward isn’t your problem. If there’s no steward in the building or in the county, you don’t have to answer any questions; no steward, no discussion. Who said so? The Supreme Court said so.
Leura Collins’ dollar box of chicken was a good deal for us!