Labor Board to Answer 'Who Is a Supervisor?'

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The National Labor Relations Board is expected to issue a decision Tuesday that could have a big impact in American workplaces. At stake: Who is a supervisor? Labor activists are prepared for a definition that could strip workers of legal protections, including the right to join a union.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And today, the National Labor Relations Board may settle a perennial workplace question: just who is a supervisor? Who is that person you need to avoid on your coffee break? The answer could affect offices and workplaces around the country.

Labor activists expect the board to issue a definition that could strip workers of legal protections, including the right to join a union.

NPR'S Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: People on both sides of the issue agree on one thing: the Labor Board's decision could be one of its most important in decades.

Employers want the board to define a supervisor as someone who directs other employees and uses independent judgment. Labor activists say that definition could exempt hundreds of thousands of workers from being able to bargain with their employers as part of union.

The Board's decision could affect everyone from nurses to journeymen construction workers. The case arose out of a union drive in Kentucky, where a hospital argued that nurses with some supervisory roles were not eligible to join a union. Employers argued that a clearer definition from the labor board would make it easier for both sides to determine who is a worker and who is management.

The unions don't know how the board will rule, but they're pessimistic. The board, which has frequently gone against the interests of big labor, is dominated by President Bush appointees. Regardless of the board's decision, nothing will happen soon. Unions insist they will appeal any unfavorable decision. Their strategy: tie the issue up in litigation, and hope that eventually Democrats win more control on Capital Hill or take the White House.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.

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