National Labor Relations Board Rulings May Affect Nurses' Unionizing Rights

Article excerpt

In three related rulings Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board expanded the definition of the term "supervisor" under federal labor laws to include some nurses and other types of employees.

An official with the Economic Policy Institute said the rulings, though not as sweeping as they could be, may still affect millions of workers in years to come, in large part because those who qualify as supervisors are unable to unionize.

EPI estimated earlier that the decisions could affect more than 32,000 workers in Oklahoma, more than 8,500 of whom are registered nurses, 5,300 chefs and cooks, 3,400 accountants/auditors, 3,300 secretaries, 2,500 licensed practical and vocational nurses and several thousand office clerks, social workers, cashiers, electricians and bookkeeping clerks.

An EPI official said he thinks "substantially all" of these types of workers are still at risk, despite unexpected outcomes against employers in two of the cases.

"The real question will be a case-by-case look in each workplace whether those lead workers and team leaders and so forth exercise what the board considers to be independent judgment," said Ross Eisenbrey, EPI vice president.

The three decisions are known as the "Kentucky River" cases, after a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case involving Kentucky River Community Care, in which the justices criticized the board's interpretation of the term "independent judgment" as it relates to an employee's authority to direct other workers.

The board held Tuesday in Oakwood Healthcare Inc. that charge nurses assigned nursing personnel to the patients for whom they would care during their shift. NLRB also found that Oakwood Heritage Hospital in Michigan proved its charge nurses exercised independent judgment in making these assignments.

In this decision, the board found that to be independent, judgment must not be controlled by another authority, and the degree of discretion exercised must rise above routine or clerical.

In another case, the board found that charge nurses at a nursing home lacked authority to assign other workers under the National Labor Relations Act. It also held that a metal manufacturing firm failed to prove that lead employees exercised independent judgment in directing crews or line members.

Nationwide, the board's guidelines are expected to have the most impact on the nursing profession. But the majority of nurses in Oklahoma have not pursued unionization, said Jane Nelson, executive director of the Oklahoma Nurses Association. …