Captain of the Ship and Highest Ranking Person Aboard Not a Supervisor Says NLRB

This case is interesting not because it involves the captain of a tugboat. Rather, its interest lies in that the NLRB has concluded that the highest-ranking person at a worksite, and the “person in charge,” is not necessarily a supervisor.

In this case, it is clear that six person crews on tugboats must obey commands of captains when the boat is at sea. And the captains are responsible for “everything that happens on a tugboat.” But, according to the current NLRB majority, nothing in the National Labor Relations Act requires that the highest ranking employee in a work group, the person whose orders must be obeyed, and the person responsible for everything, be considered a supervisor. The Board showed its true colors (its continued effort to increase unionization rates) when it cautioned: “[F]inding that captains are not supervisors for purposes of the Act does not mean that their commands need not be obeyed by the crew, or that the Employer may not discipline crew members for failing to obey them; it simply means that the captains may vote whether to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining and be represented as part of a unit that selects a representative.”

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at