The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set the stage for a vote on union status in the labor dispute at Martha's Vineyard Community Services with a May 24 ruling that expanded the pool of eligible voters in the Island Counseling Center.

While the ruling moves the two-month-old labor dispute to a formal vote, the regional NLRB's decision to include four clinical supervisors and four graduate interns in Service Employees International Union, Hospital Workers local 767 bargaining unit may prompt Community Services management to appeal the decision.

"Because of the complex nature and the length of this decision, we have not yet decided whether to pursue our lawful rights to appeal any, part of or all of this decision to the NLRB in Washington on or before June 7," Community Services executive director Ned Robinson-Lynch said this week.

Approximately 35 professional ICC and Visiting Nurse Service (VNS) employees - registered nurses, medical social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical nurse specialists, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, social workers and student interns - will be eligible to vote in a secret ballot election later in June.

The 20-page ruling draws on four days of NLRB hearings - during which Community Services management argued that clinical supervisors act as managers and should, under labor law, be excluded from the voting group.

In short, the NLRB determined clinical supervisors - who meet each week with counselors and therapists to discuss case loads and counseling techniques - fulfill an advisory role rather than exercising the "independent judgment" characteristic of managers as described in labor law.

"This question of whether clinical supervisory jobs should be included in a voting unit when traditionally all supervisory jobs are excluded is our prime legal concern with this decision. We intend to review this issue thoroughly and proceed on a reasoned, lawful basis as to whether we appeal," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said.

If management appeals, a five-member board in Washington, D.C., must receive a detailed request to review the regional NLRB decision by June 7. The national board must decide whether the appeal merits a review. If so, they may allow the June vote to continue and impound the ballots until they make a decision, or simply delay the vote altogether.

Union representatives said this week they hoped the process would not be delayed further.

"Although MVCS management has the legal right to appeal this decision to the full board in Washington, such an appeal would only further delay the process at the expense of the agency, the employees and the community," Hospital Workers Union local 767 organizing director Rob Witherell said.

Since 19 ICC petitioners filed a petition in March to form a bargaining unit, accusations and demands have been exchanged through letters to the editor, press releases and internal memorandums.

Union officials and ICC employees welcomed news this week of the expanded voting unit and coming vote.

"ICC employees have struggled for over two years to have their issues addressed by an unresponsive MVCS management. Since the petition was filed on March 15, 2002, ICC petitioners have repeatedly asked for the right to vote without further delay. It's time for the ICC petitioners and other MVCS professional employees to have their voices heard and cast their ballots," Mr. Witherell said.

"Everyone is so happy. We're simply thrilled," ICC petitioner Amy Lilavois said Wednesday morning, describing the mood of ICC employees after receiving word of the NLRB decision.

Management this week expressed confidence that the group of 35 ICC and VNS professional employees will vote not to be represented by the union.

"The NLRB recognizes that employees who may have signed a union card based upon information they had at that time may choose to vote against the union in a secret ballot election. Between now and the vote, we intend to present fully our side of this story and show why we firmly believe that while this agency is not perfect, voting in the SEIU is not the answer," Mr. Robinson-Lynch said.

At the request of several agency employees, Community Services administrators will meet with any interested employees Monday night in a closed meeting to discuss the current labor dispute and alternatives to the union.