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Oakwood Healthcare, Inc.

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. A union (Plaintiff) argued that all charge nurses at Oakwood Heritage Hospital (Defendant) should be included in the bargaining unit, but Oakwood (Defendant) argued that among them were supervisors who should be excluded from the bargaining unit.


    Synopsis of Rule of Law. For purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, registered nurses who serve as charge nurses on a permanent basis are supervisors, and in that capacity regularly assign other personnel to particular patients and use their own judgment in doing so, as opposed to those who take on the duties of charge nurses on a rotating basis.


    Facts. The 257-bed Oakwood Heritage Hospital (Defendant) has about 181 RNs who provide direct care to patients in 10 units.  The RNs report to a nursing manager, clinical managers, clinical supervisors, and assistant clinical supervisors, all of who are undeniably supervisors for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  The RNs follow doctors' orders and carry out duties such as giving medication, running blood tests, taking vital signs, observing patients, and processing admissions and discharges.  They sometimes assign less-skilled employees to feed, bathe, and walk patients and to perform tests ordered by doctors.  Twelve RNs serve as charge nurses on every shift they work, while some RNs take turns serving as charge nurses, and others never take on that responsibility.  [The union (Plaintiff) argued that all the charge nurses should be included in the bargaining unit, and the employer argued that all the charge nurses should be excluded.]


    Issue. For purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, are registered nurses who serve as charge nurses on a permanent basis supervisors, and in that capacity regularly assign other personnel to particular patients and use their own judgment in doing so, as opposed to those who take on the duties of charge nurses on a rotating basis?


    Held. [Board member not stated in casebook excerpt.]  Yes.  For purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, registered nurses who serve as charge nurses on a permanent basis are supervisors, and in that capacity regularly assign other personnel to particular patients and use their own judgment in doing so, as opposed to those who take on the duties of charge nurses on a rotating basis.  Under NLRA s 2(11), a supervisor is an employee who has the authority to perform any of 12 tasks in the interest of the employer and using individual judgment.  The responsibilities of the supervisor include "assigning" other employees, responsibly "directing" others, and using "independent judgment."  "Assign" is the act of designating an employee to a place, appointing an individual to a time, or giving essential overall duties to an employee.  But choosing the order in which the employee will perform discrete tasks within those assignments would not necessarily indicate the authority to assign.  For direction to be "responsible," the individual directing and supervising the employee must be accountable for the performance of the task by the other.  Regarding independent judgment, a judgment is not independent if it is dictated or controlled by detailed instructions, whether originating from company policies or rules, the verbal instructions of a higher authority, or in the provisions of a collective-bargaining agreement.  Charge nurses that rotate are not supervisors because they do not exercise supervisory authority for a substantial part of their work time.  Charge nurses are supervisors, and are therefore excluded from the bargaining unit.


    Discussion. Joining the majority opinion in this case is Chairman Robert J. Battista and members Peter C. Schaumber and Peter N. Kirsanow.  Members Wilma B. Liebman and Dennis P. Walsh dissented as to the majority's interpretations of the statutory language and declared that the RNs who serve as permanent charge nurses as well as those serving in that capacity on a rotating basis are not supervisors.  The ruling is landmark, because the NLRB issued new guidelines for determining who is a supervisor and not entitled to have union representation and engage in collective bargaining, a ruling that could result in removing certain workers from coverage, under federal labor law, in a wide variety of industries.



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