The National Labor Relations Board should continue its policy of determining the supervisory status of employees on a case-by-case basis, the American Hospital Association said at an NLRB hearing in Washington Oct. 28.
Any blanket definition of a supervisor or inflexible set of new regulations won't reflect, and could hinder, the pace of work-force restructuring in healthcare, said K. Bruce Stickler, a labor attorney with Keck, Mahin & Cate in Chicago. Mr. Stickler delivered the AHA's testimony.
The five-member NLRB is hearing an appeal by 341-bed Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska, which is challenging the composition of a proposed collective bargaining unit for more than 600 nurses.
The hospital said charge nurses, or shift supervisors, shouldn't be included in the bargaining unit because supervisors aren't entitled to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act. The law defines supervisors as employees who have traditional supervisory functions, such as the ability to hire, fire and discipline.
The NLRB's Seattle office in July sided with the Alaska Nurses Association. It said the charge nurses at Providence don't meet the act's definition for supervisors and therefore may belong to a union.
The case is now before the NLRB in Washington. They could establish a new methodology for making bargaining-unit determinations involving employees with supervisory duties.
Mr. Stickler said he anticipates that the board will use the case to make policy statements to help the NLRB's regional offices make decisions in similar cases in healthcare and other fields.
The status of nurses was thrown into question by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in May said nurses who supervise lesser-skilled workers weren't eligible for unionization (May 30, p. 4).
The high court, in a 5-4 vote, said the NLRB was wrong to assume that supervisory functions are intrinsic to most nursing positions and shouldn't automatically disqualify nurses from union eligibility.
Labor unions blasted the decision, saying it opened the door for employers to strip collective bargaining rights from a worker who has even the smallest management responsibilities. For example, Bozeman (Mont.) Deaconess Hospital is using the high court's decision as leverage to oust a nurses union (Aug. 22, p. 3).
The NLRB, which consolidated the Providence case with a similar one involving a New York nursing home, may issue its decision by the end of the year.
An election for union representatives at Providence took place in August, but the votes have been impounded because of the hospital's challenge.