HILADELPHIA _ Every other night, Elizabeth Teres takes charge of the overnight crew _ one other nurse and four assistants _ on the psychiatric floor at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa. In addition to carrying a full patient load, Teres divides up the work, deals with unexpected issues, reports to the hospital's overnight nursing supervisor and hands off to the day staff, tasks that, cumulatively, usually take less than an hour.
Is Teres a supervisor? Are most "charge nurses" supervisors?
The definition is at the heart of a trio of important cases known as the "Kentucky River" cases, now before the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB enforces labor laws pertaining to unions.
The cases have major implications for labor unions because supervisors are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act, the federal law that governs unions.
The more employees who are classified as supervisors, the easier it is for companies to stave off union organizing drives, or to limit unions' influence in the workplace.
"Both employers and labor are watching it closely," said John Haskell, a partner in a Kentucky consulting firm that helps companies avoid becoming unionized.