The one-page measure, which passed the House Education and Labor Committee on a party-line vote last month, would strike the words “assign” and “responsibility to direct” from the definition of supervisor in the National Labor Relations Act. It also would insert language that states an employee must be in a supervisory role for at least 50 percent of his or her time at work.
Although it hasn’t come up for a vote in the full House, it is almost certain to be approved. Like other employment law measures, it faces a more perilous path in the Senate, where the Republican minority can more easily block legislation.
The bill is a response by the Democratic congressional majorities to a National Labor Relations Board decision last fall in a collection of cases known as “Kentucky River.” The board said that charge nurses are supervisors because they assign work, direct other employees and exercise independent judgment.
Organized labor rejected the ruling, saying the nurses weren’t part of management because they didn’t have supervisory authority such as hiring, firing or setting pay. They also objected to the NLRB finding that an employee could be designated as a supervisor if he or she spent as little as 10 percent to 15 percent of work time in that capacity.
Labor groups claim that workers such as nurses, construction foremen and team leaders in manufacturing could be denied the right to organize because they’re classified as management under the NLRB approach.
An employment lawyer asserts the effect isn’t that dramatic.
“It was not a decision that brought a tremendous change in the law,” says Andrew Rolfes of Cozen O’Connor in Phila¬delphia. “It just brought some clarity to the definitions that are in the law.”
Republicans say that labor and Democrats are overreacting. The bill “represents a significant departure from 60 years of law,” says Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota.
The Democratic author of the measure says that it is narrowly drawn to overturn the NLRB decision. “What this bill does is restore the decades-old meaning of those laws,” says Rep. Robert Andrews, D-New Jersey.
He also dismisses Republican charges that Democrats are trying to pay back labor for helping the party take over the House and Senate. “Fairness is good for business and it’s good for labor,” Andrews says.
Senate Republicans may cry foul when employment law battles resume there.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, indicated he would like to skip Senate hearings and take the House NLRB bill directly to the floor for a vote—as Democrats did with a measure earlier this year that would make it easier for employees to form a union.
Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to score political points rather than formulate policy by truncating the legislative process.