The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 25, 2007

'Absurd' ruling transforms nurses into supervisors; what group is next?

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Some nurses who make out schedules for co-workers, and construction journeymen who direct apprentices, are at the top of the list of U.S. employees who may be declared "supervisors" under a new National Labor Relations Board ruling.

Reclassifying such workers as "supervisors," which the NLRB did last year, would allow employers to deny them union rights. The ruling is still being assessed and could affect anywhere from 8 million to 34 million U.S. workers. It is widely understood in the labor community that the majority of five-member NLRB, picked by President Bush, is anti-union and made the ruling to benefit business interests.

In March, three lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Congress introduced a bill to overturn the "workers are supervisors" ruling. The bill states that a worker cannot be a supervisor unless "for a majority of the working time" he or she is "acting in the interest of the employer" in hiring, firing, disciplining or otherwise managing workers.

It also says a worker cannot be named a supervisor just for "assigning" other people to tasks or just for being responsible for directing them on occasion.

One of those arbitrarily reassigned-to-supervisor nurses is RN Lori Gay of the Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, who testified before a May 8 hearing in front of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee.

"As a charge nurse, I'm in charge of the pencil," Gay testified. ""Typically, I spend 10 minutes at the end of my shift filling out an assignment sheet for the oncoming shift, making sure every patient has a bed and a nurse. I record the traffic in and out. It's as simple as that. I don't have the authority to hire, fire, evaluate or promote other nurses" or discipline them.

All those factors, and more, are responsibilities of supervisors, but the Bush NLRB majority said that if a worker engages in any one of them for as little as 10 percent to 15 percent or his or her working time, that worker is a supervisor and can be denied union representation.

Gay called the situation "absurd." Her union, the United American Nurses, won a recognition election at Salt Lake in 2002, but the ballots - including hers - were impounded for five years until after the board's workers-as-supervisors ruling came down last fall. The ballots then went back to Salt Lake City for a recount under the new definition of supervisors.

"Sixty-four out of 153 nurses…were supervisors, including myself. All the RNs in the neonatal intensive care unit were essentially 'supervising' each other on a rotating basis. In inpatient rehabilitation, 10 out of 12…In the newborn nursery 10 out of 12…In the surgical unit, the ratio was 10 (supervisors) to seven" non-supervisors, Gay said.

In addition to construction, other professions that could be subject to the new supervisor rules include newspaper reporters (who work with editorial assistants), teachers (who have teachers' aides) and physicians' assistants.

Democrat-appointed members of the NLRB, Wilma Liebman and Dennis Walsh said the NLRB majority decision regarding supervisors "threatens to create a new class of workers under federal labor law - workers who have neither the genuine prerogatives of management, nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."

Liebman and Walsh wrote that most professionals and other workers could fall under the new definition of supervisor, "who by 2012 could number almost 34 million, accounting for 23.3 percent of the workforce." They went on to say the Republican majority did not follow what Congress intended in applying the National Labor Relations Act.