NLRB Declares Supervisors ‘Supervisors’
The NLRB ruled yesterday that those workers who regularly supervise other workers are supervisors.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that nurses with full-time responsibility for assigning fellow hospital workers to particular tasks are supervisors under federal labor law and thus not eligible to be represented by unions.
The 3-to-2 decision, long awaited by unions and businesses, sets a new standard for determining who is a supervisor in the modern economy and could have significant implications for efforts by labor unions to organize nurses in the fast-growing health-care sector. Under federal law, supervisors do not have the right to belong to unions.
The ruling defines workers as supervisors if they give assignments to other workers, if they are held responsible for the performance of those assignments and if they exercise independent judgment rather than follow an employer’s detailed instructions. NLRB members Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh, the only Democrats on the board, argued in dissent that the definition was so broad it “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.”
Yet this is rather clearly not the case. As the story notes, “The NLRB disqualified only 12 of the  nurses [that the hospital tried to classify as supervisors] from belonging to the bargaining unit — all full-time ‘charge nurses’ whom the board deemed to be supervisors because of their responsibility for assigning and directing other workers on their shifts.” So, the NLRB recognized that those who spend “at least 10-15 percent of their total work time” doing supervisory tasks are, in fact, supervisors.
Kevin Drum sees this as part of an evil Republican plot to drive down wages:
This is, by the way, the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say that Republicans have made it steadily harder over the years to organize unions. Most people will never hear about this ruling, just as most have never heard of the dozens of other under-the-radar rulings, laws, regulations, and court decisions that have slowly chipped away at the ability of unions to organize over the years. But believe me: business lobbies have. And since this ruling mostly affects service industries, they can’t pretend that globalization has forced their hand. They just want to eliminate any organized pressure to pay their workers more.
Do businesses prefer to deal with workers as individuals rather than as a group? Sure. Would they prefer to avoid the risk of being blackmailed with group walkouts and forced to pay workers more than they would command in a free market? You bet.
At the end of the day, however, the United Autoworkers can still try to organize the vast majority of the nurses at Oakwood Healthcare Inc. (Do they fix cars when not working on patients? -ed. Apparently. Probably no more than 10-15 percent of their total work time, though. ) If 127 represents “two-thirds of the total bargaining unit,” then there are roughly 192 nurses at the facility. Of those, only 12 were added to the “supervisory” category as a result of this ruling. That’s a little over 6 percent. Does that sound like an inordinately high number of supervisors? Indeed, it sounds rather low to me for a profession in which at least an associate’s degree and often a bachelor’s degree is an entrance requirement.
That an auto workers’ union is trying to organize nurses shows how much the economy has changed since the bad old days. These aren’t low skilled, geographically bound workers stuck doing dangerous work at the only factory in town but rather highly skilled, high demand, mobile workers in a burgeoning industry doing relatively pleasant work for which they spent years training. Hospitals already have to pay high wages and offer competitive benefits to attract nurses, who are in shortage in much of the country. The idea that they need to band together in solidarity for protection is absurd.
Regardless, however, 94 percent of the nurses in question have the right to try.