NLRB Rules that Hospital Interns and Residents Are "Employees" With Right to Organize

As a result of the NLRB’s June 3, 2010 decision (pdf) refusing to review a regional director’s ruling that the interns and residents at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, New York, are employees, the ballots they cast in a union election on June 18, 2009 will shortly be counted. The results of the vote will determine whether the hospital’s interns and residents will be joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The central issue presented by the election petition filed by an SEIU local in 2009 was whether the hospital’s interns and residents were “employees” with the right to organize, or students not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). 

An NLRB Regional Director in Manhattan ruled on May 22, 2009, that the hospital’s 280 interns and residents were, in fact, employees.  Following the election, and before the ballot box was opened, the hospital filed a request for review of that decision with the full NLRB in Washington, DC.  The hospital’s appeal claimed that the Regional Director erroneously failed to consider the import of the Board’s 2004 decision involving Brown University, which held that university teaching and research assistants were students and not employees, and argued that because the hospital was receiving federal funding to provide the doctors with graduate medical training, the doctors similarly were students.   

In a 2-1 panel decision, with controversial Board Member Craig Becker (a former SEIU Associate General Counsel) casting the decisive vote, the hospital’s review request was denied.  In doing so, the Board reaffirmed its 1999 decision involving Boston Medical Center, in which medical interns and residents, or house staff, were found to be statutory employees and declined to address whether its subsequent Brown University decision warranted a different finding.

According to the hospital, approximately two-thirds of the interns and residents who were eligible to participate in the 2009 election will no longer be associated with the hospital by the end of this month.

Interestingly, in a separate, but simultaneous, development, the NLRB may have occasion to review the Brown University decision, which could lead to a future ruling by the NLRB that graduate and teaching assistants similarly are employees.

This entry was written by David I. Rosen.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.