Know Your Rights
Union members have specific rights on the job that are spelled out in your contract. You also have rights that are protections in state and federal law. Each contract is different.
Having a union makes a difference. On average, union members earn about 20% more in wages than non-union members. Because each contract can be different, a member should read their contract to find out about wages. Find Your Contract.
Wages are one part of an overall package for many union members including: health care coverage, retirement, vacation and sick leave.
The industries in the state and national economy that have the most "union density" - percentage of union members in a particular workforce - tend to have a stronger ability to bargain for higher wages and benefits. Organizing new work sites and new workers not only helps those particular workers get better wages, it especially helps all union members.
Make sure you check your paycheck. If you feel that you have missed a pay raise, not been paid for time worked, not been paid properly for holiday time, etc., Contact your Union Representative.
Having a union makes a difference. Union members are far more likely to receive health care benefits from their jobs. UFCW 21 members at different workplaces have different benefit plans. The health plan you have depends on your contract.
UFCW 21 members at Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, Bartell, Rite Aid, and many other stores receive benefits through the Sound Health & Wellness Trust. Representatives of both UFCW 21 and representatives of employers are jointly responsible for Sound Health & Wellness. UFCW 21 members at several health care facilities are also covered by Sound Health & Wellness.
Many health care workers, as well as some other retail and industry workers, are covered by their employer-based plans. Again, these are bargained as part of your contract.
For more information on the Sound Health and Wellness plan, visit soundhealthwellness.com.
For all information and questions related to a different benefit plan (such as an employer-administered plans), please contact your employer.
If you believe your employer is not providing the benefits in your contract, Contact your Union Representative.
All UFCW 21 contracts guarantee that employees cannot be disciplined or discharged, except for "just cause." The Just Cause checklist below can help you determine whether your Employer had Just Cause for a disciplinary action. Answering "No" to any of the following questions normally means the Employer does not have just and proper cause.
Did the Employer Provide Forewarning?
Did the employer let the employee know of the possible or probable disciplinary consequences that could result from their actions? The warning may be spoken or printed. An exception may be made for certain conduct (i.e., insubordination, coming to work drunk, drinking on the job, or stealing company property) that is so serious that the employee is expected to know it will be punishable.
Was it a Reasonable Rule?
Was the employer's rule or managerial order reasonably related to (a) the orderly, efficient and safe operation of the company's business, and (b) the performance that the employer might properly expect of the employee?
Did the Employer Investigate?
Did the employer, before disciplining the employee, make an effort to find out whether the employee did, in fact, violate or disobey a rule or order of management? The investigation normally should be made before the decision to discipline is made. However, if the employer believes immediate action is required, they could choose to suspend the employee pending investigation with the understanding that the worker will be reinstated and paid for time lost if there is no basis for punishment.
Was the Investigation Fair?
Was the company's investigation conducted fairly and objectively?
Did the "Judge" find Proof?
At the investigation, did the "judge" obtain substantial evidence or proof that the employee was guilty as charged? It is not required that the evidence be conclusive or "beyond reasonable doubt," except where the alleged misconduct is of such criminal or reprehensible nature as to stigmatize the employee and seriously impair their chances for future employment.
Are All Employees Being Treated Equally?
Has the company applied its rules, orders and penalties evenhandedly and without discrimination to all employees? If enforcement has been lax in the past, management can't suddenly reverse its course and begin cracking down without first warning employees of its intent.
Is the Penalty Appropriate?
Was the degree of discipline reasonably related to: (a) the seriousness of the proven offense; and, (b) the record of the employee in his/her service with the company? If Employee A's past record is significantly better than Employee B's, the company may properly punish Employee A more lightly than Employee B for the same offense.
Fair Treatment at Work
All union members have certain rights at work that help protect them from unfair treatment. Many of these rights are guaranteed in laws such as Family Medical Leave, overtime and safe working conditions. Many other rights are ones that are secured through a contract that union members have negotiated at a specific workplace.
Beyond the listed categories in this Know Your Rights section, members should check with a Steward or Union Representative if they feel their rights are being violated. Only by standing up for our rights can we achieve fair treatment at work.
Injured on the Job
Every day workers get hurt on the job. As much as possible should be done to prevent injuries through workplace safety trainings and practices. In addition, it should be insured that workplace working conditions are as safe as possible. However, accidents do happen.
If you are injured in the job, the first thing to do is to get treatment. If it is minor, you may treat the injury at once. Every worksite is required to have a first-aid kit. If you need medical attention, make sure you seek it immediately.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is the official site to find out answers to questions about workplace injuries, how to treat them, how to file a claim, getting independent medical exams, etc. Click here for more helpful information.
Weingarten Rights: Your Right to Union Representation
You have the right to union representation if you are called to a meeting with management that could lead to discipline.
Weingarten rights were won in a 1975 Supreme Court decision with these basic guidelines:
- You must make a clear request for union representation either before or during the interview. Managers do not have to inform employees of their rights.
- Management cannot retaliate against an employee requesting representation.
- Management must delay questioning until the union steward arrives.
- It is against Federal Law for management to deny an employee's request for a steward and continue with an interrogation. In this case, an employee can refuse to answer management's questions.
If you have any questions about your Weingarten rights, speak to a Steward or call your Union Representative at 1-800-732-1188.
Family and Medical Leave
FMLA and Family Care Act
Unions fought hard for the passage of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the 1990s and the more recently our state's Family Care Act.
Under FMLA your rights include:
- The right to take up to 12 weeks of medical leave each year on a consecutive or intermittent basis.
- The right to take up to 12 weeks of family leave each year to care for a seriously ill child, parent, or spouse.
- The right to a part-time work schedule when necessitated by medical problems or to care for an ill family member.
- The right to decline a light-duty job for the first 12 weeks of an injury or illness. (If on an L&I claim, you must accept light duty or risk losing Workers Compensation benefits.) Most importantly, the FMLA prohibits employers from penalizing employees who miss work for qualified reasons. FMLA absences cannot be used as points under an attendance policy, as a reason for denying a pay increase or promotion, or in any other negative manner.
- The right to return to your job after FMLA leave.
You have these rights if you meet all the following criteria:
- Work for a private employer (including non-profit organizations) which has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, or work for a public employer including federal, state, city, and local agencies and schools.
- Have worked for this employer for at least 12 months or 52 weeks (does not have to be consecutive).
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months.
You may take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid FMLA leave in each 12-month period for the following reasons:
- Medical leave - A serious health condition that makes you unable to perform your job.
- Family leave - Need to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parent.
- Childbirth and Newborn Care leave - Childbirth or need to care for a newborn child up to age one.
- Adoption and Foster Placement leave - Placement of a child with you for adoption or foster care.
Washington State workers are also protected by the Washington Family Care Act, which became law thanks to the support of labor unions and community allies.
The Family Care Act allows employees to use sick leave or other paid time off to care for spouses, parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, and adult children with disabilities, just as they would be able to use the time if they were sick themselves. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries provides on-line information about the Family Care Act.
This is a brief overview of family leave protections. UFCW 21 helps enforce this important law and has protected many members' jobs using FMLA. Contact your Steward or Union Representative if you have any questions.
Care for a Sick Family Member
A lot of people are getting sick. And state law helps you take care of sick family members with pay if you have access to sick leave or PTO.
The Washington State Family Care Act was passed in 2002 with the strong support of unions like UFCW 21. It extends Family & Medical Leave rights by ensuring that workers who have paid leave (PTO or sick leave) can tap into that reserve while providing care for a sick family member in the same way they would use it to pay for their own sick days.
So the next time you need to call in to care for a sick kid or a family member with a serious health condition, remember this law. Ask your Union Rep for details if you have questions.
Participating in Union Activities
You have the legal right to join or support a union and to participate in the following union activities:
- Attend meetings to discuss joining a union.
- Read, distribute, and discuss union literature, as long as you do this in non-work areas during non-work times, such as breaks or lunch hours.
- Wear union buttons, T-shirts, stickers, hats, or other items on the job.
- Sign a card asking your employer to recognize and bargain with the union.
- Sign petitions or file grievances related to wages, hours, working conditions, and other job issues.
- Ask other employees to support the union, to sign union cards or petitions, or to file grievances.
"Good Faith" Bargaining
After the union's election victory is officially certified by the National Labor Relations Board, your employer is legally required to negotiate in "good faith" with the union on a written contract covering wages, hours, and other working conditions.
The National Labor Relations Act Says:
Section 7: "Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representation of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining..."
Section 8(a): "It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer...to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7..."
Protection from Employer Action
Your employer cannot legally punish or discriminate against any worker because of union activity. For example, your employer cannot legally do the following:
- Threaten to actually fire, lay off, discipline, harass, transfer, or reassign employees because they support the union.
- Favor employees who don't support the union over those who do in promotions, job assignments, wages, hours, enforcement of rules, or any other working condition.
- Shut down the work site or take away any benefits or privileges employees already enjoy in order to discourage union activity.
- Promise employees a pay increase, promotion, benefit, or special favor if they oppose the union.
If your employer violates the law, the union can help you file "Unfair Labor Practice" changes with the National Labor Relations Board.
Backed up by the federal courts, the Labor Board has the power to order an employer to stop interfering with employees' rights, to provide back pay, and to reverse any action taken against workers for union activity.
Washington State law allows employees to take time off work to address issues of domestic violence. Under State law, you have the right to take domestic violence leave in order to:
- Seek legal or law-enforcement assistance.
- Seek treatment for physical or mental injuries caused by domestic violence.
- Assist a family member in obtaining services for domestic violence.
The law also requires that:
- You must give your employer advance notice of your intention to take domestic violence leave.
- In case of an emergency where you cannot inform your employer in advance, you must give notice by the end of the first day of leave.
- Employers may require verification.
If you have any questions about domestic violence leave, or want to know more about your rights and your contract, speak to a Union Steward or call your Union Representative at 1-800-732-1188.
For those who are laid off, Washington State law allows workers to receive unemployment compensation in the event they lose their job through no fault of their own. For details and to apply for benefit online, go to the Washington State Employment Security Department. The website also provides answers to common questions about unemployment.
In the event of a layoff, your UFCW 21 contract provides protection by setting out rules for how layoffs proceed. These rules are different depending on the specifics in each contract, but all contracts include language which ensures that any layoffs proceed fairly and equitably.
Unemployment is funded by employers through payroll taxes. Weekly unemployment benefits can help laid-off workers meet expenses until finding a new job. Again, Washington State Employment Security Department lets you apply for benefits online.
Safe Working Conditions
All workers are entitled to and should demand safe working conditions. The State of Washington and UFCW 21 can work together to ensure this.
The Union has the right to inspect a unionized worksite at anytime to ensure safe working conditions. If you feel there is an unsafe condition, contact your Steward or your Union Representative to discuss the situation.
Together, we can work with your employer to fix the problem or take appropriate legal action if necessary.
For detailed information about safety and health at work, visit the AFL-CIO's Safety and Health at Work web page.
The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the power to enforce laws which affect safety and health at work.
Washington State workers can also use the State Department of Labor and Industries website to find out more about worker rights in state law.
Foreclosure Mediation Law
Washington State law gives you the right to a face-to-face meeting with your lender when you are at risk of foreclosure on your home.
You are eligible for foreclosure mediation by law if:
- You are a homeowner who lives in owner-occupied property, and;
- You are in default on your mortgage and have not yet received the Notice of Trustee’s Sale
- You must request foreclosure mediation through a housing counselor or an attorney.
What is foreclosure mediation?
Foreclosure mediation is a process where a neutral, third-party mediator assists the homeowner and the lender to reach a fair, voluntary, and negotiated agreement.
Why request mediation?
If you have not been able to get in touch with your lender you can now request a face-to-face meeting to discuss alternatives to foreclosure. During mediation, the lender is required to negotiate with you in good faith.
How can I request mediation?
Foreclosure mediation must be requested by a housing counselor or an attorney on behalf of the homeowner. To find a housing counselor call 1-877-894-HOME (4663).
How much does it cost?
The homeowner and the lender shall each pay a $200 fee for the mediation. The fee must be paid prior to the mediation.
UFCW 21 is part of the Alliance to Prevent Predatory Lending which fought for this legislation in Olympia. We will monitor the results of this new law in order to ensure that lenders are in compliance, and that it is effective in helping homeowners avoid foreclosure. If you exercise your right to request mediation, we encourage you to contact your Union Representative (1-800-732-1188) with your experience, good or bad. We will share your stories with state lawmakers so they can better understand the law’s value and how it can be further improved.