Efforts to unionize nurses at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center are apparently over, with ballots cast five years ago destined to go uncounted.

Suzanne Martin, a spokeswoman for the United American Nurses, confirmed Monday the union has withdrawn its petition — an action that came as hospital owner Iasis Healthcare was waiting for word from the National Labor Relations Board regional office on when the ballots would be returned to Salt Lake for counting.

Doug Boudreaux, spokesman for Iasis Healthcare, said it is still awaiting word on whether and when the votes will be counted. But Iasis had heard rumors that the petition was pulled.

"We have not received official word on anything yet," he said. "Until we do, we can't comment."

Officially, Iasis is waiting to be told of the time and place where the ballots will be counted.

The effort to unionize the hospital's nurses has been a long and sometimes contentious one. For years, the issue of whether nurses sometimes assigned as "charge nurses" are supervisors held up the ballot count. The regional NLRB's application of the national ruling in the SLRMC case persuaded the union to step away.

Salt Lake Regional has routinely rotated "charge nurse" duty among experienced nurses. The nurses have maintained that they hold the job two or three times a month at most, not permanently. Also, they "don't hire, fire, counsel or discipline," so they're not really supervisors, according to Lori Gay, a nurse who was the longtime spokeswoman for the nurses' effort to join the union.

The hospital has said that the decisions they make as charge nurses, including which nurse is assigned to which patient for the shift, mean they are supervisors.

It's an important distinction, because supervisors can't push to unionize.

Initially, a regional NLRB decision agreed with the nurses. But Iasis appealed, and after years of waiting, last October the national NLRB answered the question of charge-nurse status in "Oakwood Healthcare," which posed the charge-nurse status question. The board said, 3-2, that permanent charge nurses are supervisors and rotating charge nurses are employees.

UAN was among unions that criticized how the decision defined key words, saying it expanded an employer's ability to thwart unions by calling employees supervisors. The two dissenting NLRB members wrote it "threatens to create a new class of workers ... who neither have the genuine prerogatives of management nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."

The SLRMC case was returned to the local NLRB, based in Denver, to have that interpretation applied to the facts of the Utah case. And two weeks ago, the board ruled that charge nurses at the hospital are supervisors and their ballots — which had been segregated because of the controversy at the time of the vote — could not be counted.

Nurses who sometimes serve as charge nurses cast more than one-third of the 153 votes in June 2002.

Martin said the NLRB ruling "puts everybody at risk of being characterized as a supervisor, without either the benefits or rights you would get as a supervisor."

She said the union decided it was against everyone's interest to let the election go forward "in the current climate with its wild and bizarre interpretation of the rule where everyone can be a supervisor."

Gay, former union-organizer spokesman for the Salt Lake nurses, was fired from the hospital last week, but company policy forbids discussing personnel issues, Boudreaux said.

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